The lifestyle of a child during the Victorian era was decided on the basis of the house he was born in. If a child was born to wealthy parents, things like luxuries, excellent food, and best education are a few things that were guaranteed. However, if a child was born in a less fortunate home, things were difficult for the child.
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Life of poor Victorian children
Boys born in a wealthy family were often sent to boarding for education or were tutored at home by eminent tutors while girls were trained in household activities like sewing, knitting etc. which would make them the perfect housewives.
Things were very different in case the of children born in poor families. In their situation, children as small as three or five-year-old were employed by industrial units as they were an important source of labor to the industries but despite the hard work, they could be paid a very mere sum.
Victorian children at work
The children worked for long tiring hours in the factories doing hazardous jobs. Children, especially boys around the age of eleven or twelve years were employed to clean chimneys. The basic reason why children were driven to work and jeopardize their lives was because Victorian people lived in large families.
The number of people in the family who worked were less as compared to those who were dependent on the earning members. This made it further difficult to earn enough to satisfy everyone’s need.
The miserable living condition forced these families to take any opportunity to make money. Thus, children were pushed into working to help the parents to earn money and support the budget of the family. Many people justified children’s working as an act of helping those in dire need of money.
How was Victorian child labour exploitation?
This attitude exploited the children rather than saving their innocent childhood. The plight of working children was such that they were made to work hard and for long duration as their parents did. Even the Parliament was in favor of child labor. The conditions in which the children were kept were pathetic.
After working for such long hours, there was no time for these children to go to school and obtain an education. This reduced the very importance of education from their lives. The tendency of people had become such that they wanted to earn money by doing any job.
Did education act help Victorian kids?
However, in 1870, Education Act made it mandatory for children between five to ten years of age to go to school.
It was not until 1881 that the Act was made applicable throughout the country. Many children took after school jobs to help manage the budget of their families. There were two common indoor jobs that children took- one was to work as a servant and the other was to be sweatshop workers. Girls and Boys as young as eleven years worked as servants in people’s homes doing the allotted jobs.
There were some businessmen who found the very concept of making a child work in hazardous factories unreasonable. To some, children were appropriate labourers to operate the small machines. In 1802 and 1819, Factories Acts were passed which restricted the working hours of children working in cotton mills to twelve hours. These acts did anything but help improve the situation.
In 1833, Royal Commission recommended children between eleven to eighteen years be made to work only for twelve hours, and those younger for eight hours. The problem here was that it only covered the problem of those working in the textile industry. Thus, poverty played a major role in the exploitation of children and taking away from them their innocence and childhood.