Contrast Of Children's Lives Essay

2270 words - 10 pages

“Compare and contrast children’s lives in Britain in the 19th Century with the 20th Century.”

Children’s lives and experiences of childhood have undergone many changes over the last two centuries. In order to evaluate these changes this essay will draw on a number of issues. The first will be child labour, and the processes by which it eventually became outlawed. The second will be the issue of schooling; not only the length of time at school day to day, but the age to which children stayed on at school. This essay will then go on to consider children and the family economy, their place within the family, as well as the issue of a prolonged childhood as a time of parental dependence ...view middle of the document...

The early 19th Century saw concerns being raised about moral and physical development issues surrounding child labour (Cunningham,2003). Michael Sadler, in 1832, led a campaign in Parliament to highlight the detrimental effects of factory work on children, and the social phenomenon of adult displacement in favour of children in the workplace (Cunningham,2003). Following evidence from a range of Parliamentary Commissions between1832 and 1842, newspaper articles and first-hand evidence from children themselves, a view of childhood began to take shape around concepts of welfare. The Factory Act of 1833 established controls on minimum age and maximum hours of work for children, enforced by legislation and accompanied by inspections to ensure compliance. This developing trend against child labour faced opposition on the basis that it would impair international competitiveness. These fears were shown to be ill-founded and the laws governing child labour were extended, gradually, to all industries. Initially the laws were not designed to outlaw child labour entirely, merely to install controls and safeguards. Children continued to work and contribute to family welfare by moving to marginal rather than central occupations, in an “age-graded labour market” (Cunningham,2003,pg 91). This raised renewed fears regarding inadequate skills and training in preparation for adult labour markets, and moral consequences, especially for girls, in street-selling. However, attempts to bring in statutory controls and training programmes to address these inadequacies proved ineffective (Cunningham,2003). Aside from legislation and changing attitudes regarding the appropriateness of child labour, factors such as technological improvements and economic advancement, promoting higher wages for adults, contributed to a reduced level of demand for child labour and diminished the previously vital input of a child’s earning in the family economy. There was also a sense of national shame at the extent to which other European countries had more advanced legislation regarding child labour (Cunningham,2003). Taken together, at this point, towards the end of the 19th century, a range of factors were combining to create a climate within which the status of children and the nature of childhood were undergoing total re-evaluation. Accordingly, a shift towards a Romantic discourse of childhood as an idyllic time, free from work and responsibility, in which a child is loved and valued for reasons other than earning capacity began to assume prominence. Increased access to cultures beyond Europe, as in the example of Japan (Cunningham,2003,pg 94), served to highlight the enhanced status of children in a different social structure. Additionally, an increasing value was being attached to raising educational standards as an indicator of social and economic progress.

Before the introduction of compulsory schooling late in the 19th Century, there had been provision of schooling in...

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