Society has viewed childhood in various perspectives throughout history. Mayall (2006) theorised that initially children were not considered part of a society but only inhabit a preparatory stage before they are considered contributing members as adults. However, the onset of child labour has changed this perspective. Because children have shown that they were capable of work, they have been treated like “little adults”. Since they were already earning money and were being useful to their families and society, the fact that they were still developing their bodies and minds was overlooked.
The International Labour Organization (ILO, 2012 para 3,) defines child labour as
“work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development”.
This was conceptualised after studying how society viewed child labour during certain periods in history. The United Nations established the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1989 and had several nations ratify it to ensure that children all over the world are not deprived of their rights.
Cunningham and Viazzo (1996) contend that child labour may have had a long history, even before the industrial revolution. However, due to lack of statistical information, they assume that it became more pronounced and exploitative during the start of the Industrial Revolution. Heward (1993) explains that child advocates and reformists were outraged at the predicament of young children who worked heavily for very long hours. They called for the abolition of child labour but factory reformers called for its regulation rather than its abolition. They reasoned that families could not afford to give up the wages that these children brought in and admitted that textile factories could not function well without child labour (Wistanley, 1995). Implementation of such regulation was not expected to be carried out without proper legislation. Nardinelli (1980) reports that in 1832, the first Factory Act was written limiting the working hours of all children below the age of 18 to 10 hours per day. This was backed up by a report on child labour with harrowing tales of overwork, exploitation and physical deterioration of children as young as four years (Hopkins, 1994). Although the report was met with shock and indignation, a compromise was reached in 1833 prohibiting employment of children under the age of nine in all textile mills except silk mills powered by steam or water. Children from 9-12 years of age could only work for nine hours a day or 48 hours a week provided they were also being schooled, and their working hours did not interfere with their schooling hours. This derived from the idea that although children who were schooled may still be subject to child labour, the number of hours should be limited and minimised (Nardinelli, 1980). In 1842, the Coal Mines Act marked the success of Lord Ashley’s Children’s Employment Commission with a recommendation to forbid all women and children under the age of 10 to be employed under the ground. This was to prevent their corruption and