What Is Child Labor History?

Child labor has been an aspect of society throughout much of history. However, child labor history started when humans developed farming and extra hands were needed to keep up with farming duties.1

“The modern history of child labor indicates that the transatlantic slave trade—which lasted three centuries beginning in 1562—was one of the earliest origins of the practice. Industrial revolutions beginning around 1750 in Europe, as well as in the U.S. following the Civil War, also forced children into dangerous work.”2

Child labor really took off during the industrial revolution. Once industries realized that children wouldn’t organize into unions and would expect less money, they utilized children heavily in several industries. For example, in the fashion industry, children with their small fingers can quickly do detailed jobs where adult fingers would struggle. In agriculture, a child’s small hands are less likely to damage the crops.

In 1904, the National Child Labor Committee was formed in the USA with the goal of “promoting the rights, awareness, dignity, well-being and education of children and youth as they relate to work and working.”3

The International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 182 of 1999 is another milestone in the fight against child labor. It sought the “effective elimination of the worst forms of child labour,” which it acknowledged “requires immediate and comprehensive action.”4

The child labor issue has been exasperated in regions such as Asia and Africa by intense poverty. When families struggle to provide sufficient food, the temptation to have another income-earner via a child laborer is strong.

It is estimated that 122 million kids ages 5-14 in Asia and the Pacific are involved in child labor.5 The major industries where children are employed are brick kilns, carpet weaving, garment making, domestic services, agriculture, fishing and mining.6 Over half of the child labor force is found in Africa, Asia and the Pacific.7

Since 1979, GFA World has been working to help impoverished families in Asia and recently started working in Africa as well. This work includes offering positive alternatives to child labor, which is vital to combating the reasons families often opt to send their children to work. Will you join us in providing families with positive alternatives?

Learn more about child labor examples

1 “A History of Child Labor.” Borgen Magazine. 8 July 2016. https://www.borgenmagazine.com/history-child-labor/.
2 “A History of Child Labor.” Borgen Magazine. 8 July 2016. https://www.borgenmagazine.com/history-child-labor/.
3 “National Child Labor Committee Collection.” Library of Congress. Accessed 12 February 2022. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/nclc/background.html.
4 “C182 Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention.” International Labour Organization. Accessed 12 February 2022. https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:C182.
5 “Child Labour in Asia and Pacific.” International Labour Organization. Accessed 12 February 2022. https://www.ilo.org/asia/areas/child-labour/lang–en/index.htm.
6 “Child Labor and Exploitation.” UNICEF. Accessed 12 February 2022. https://www.unicef.org/rosa/what-we-do/child-protection/child-labour-and-exploitation.
7 Maki, Reid. “10 Basic Facts about Child Labor.” The Child Labor Coalition. 16 July 2018. https://stopchildlabor.org/the-basic-facts-about-child-labor-globally-from-the-ilo/.
* ILO Asia-Pacific. Flickr. https://flickr.com/photos/iloasiapacific/8762242147/. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)