Child Labor

Revised Oct 28th 1999. Your comments & suggestions would be appreciated

   Children of necessity contributed to the family income not only by doing household tasks that relieved older family members for work that paid more, but also by working as servants in the homes or on the farms of other families, or by working in "weeding gangs" that traveled through the countryside under the direction of a "weeding boss".
    As the rural economy failed children as well as their parents were forced to seek factory work in nearby towns and cities. Both were employed in the
manufacture of matches but children were especially sought by the factory owners for this work because their wages generally were lower. s w
   This work required dipping racks of wooden match sticks, into a thick paste containing white
phosphorus, and then putting the racks in stands to dry. This did seem physically undemanding work suitable for children.
   However, both adults and children in this work developed one of the most frightful of occupational diseases, "
phossy jaw".

1Another frightful thing was child labor in coal mines. Children as young as 8 years were sent down into the coal pits. Their wages were low and because of their small size could work in narrow, low seams. We have no direct information on conditions in Belgian mines but there this is an account by 8 year-old Sarah Gooder reported by a British mines investigating commission in 1842: "I'm a trapper (collector) in the pit. It does not tire me, but I have to work without a light and I'm scared. I go at four and sometimes half past three in the morning, and come out at half past five. I never go to sleep in the pit. Sometimes I sing when I've light, but not in the dark; I dare not sing then. I don't like being in the pit. I am very sleepy sometimes when I go in the morning. I go to Sunday school and study "Reading made Easy". [Comments by mines investigator: "She knows her letters, and can read little words. She can repeat the Lord's Prayer, not perfectly]"God bless me and make me a good servant. Amen." I have heard tell of Jesus many a time. I don't know why he came on earth and I don't know why he died. I would like to be at school far better than in the pit.". It would not be surprising if Belgian children laboring in mines for 10 or hours a day would have similar complaints and wishes.

1 From a report to the British Parliament by Lord Ashley's Mines Commission of 1842. The Mines Act of that year that resulted prohibited the employment in the mines of all women and of children under thirteen. (For more about this see <>).

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