The Child Labor Act of 1916 US
This law set limits on children’s working hours and prohibited the interstate sale of commodities made with child labor.
Approximately 2 million youngsters worked in mills, mines, farms, factories, stores, and on city streets across the United States, according to the 1900 census. The census data sparked a nationwide push in the United States to abolish child labor.
Lewis Hine was engaged as a staff photographer by the National Child Labor Committee in 1908, and he was dispatched around the country to photograph and report on child labor (see Hine photo). Because of its negative impact on children’s health and wellbeing, social reformers began to denounce child labor.
Karl Marx and Charles Dickens, who had worked in a factory as a child, were among those who helped to agitate public opinion against it. The novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, which was widely read in the United Kingdom and the United States, was one of the most powerful attacks. Dickens’ masterpiece depicts an orphan kid reared in industrialized London in the 1850s in poorhouses and workhouses, as well as by street criminals.
The Keating-Owen bill, passed in 1916, was based on Senator Albert J. Beveridge’s 1906 proposal and used the government’s authority to control interstate trade to prohibit child labor. The legislation prohibited the sale of products from any factory, store, or cannery using children under the age of 14, as well as any mine employing children under the age of 16, and any facility employing children under the age of 16 working at night or for more than 8 hours during the day. Despite the fact that the Keating-Owen Act was enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson, the Supreme Court decided in Hammer v. Dagenhart 247 U.S. 251 (1918) that it was unconstitutional because it overstepped the government’s powers to regulate interstate trade.
The Court distinguished between the Congress’s jurisdiction to control production and trade in its judgment. As part of the Revenue Act of 1919, a second child labor bill was approved in December 1918. (also called the Child Labor Tax Law). It too went the indirect approach to restrict child labor, this time through the use of the government’s taxing authorities. Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Company 259 U.S. 20 determined it to be unlawful as well (1922). “The ability of Congress to control interstate commerce does not extend to restricting the right of states to regulate local trade,” the Court reasoned.
Despite the public’s apparent desire for federal legislation barring child labor, the Supreme Court’s decisions have left little possibility for such legislation. A constitutional amendment to provide Congress the ability to control child labor was suggested soon after. In the 1920s, an aggressive effort to undermine the Child Labor Amendment slowed the push for ratification. Opponents accused the amendment of being a communist-inspired scheme to destroy the Constitution, ranging from classic states’ rights arguments against expansions in the Federal Government’s authority to claims that the amendment was a communist-inspired plot to subvert the Constitution.
The Fair Labor Standards Act, which was also challenged in the Supreme Court, did not provide federal protection for minors until 1938. The campaign to abolish child labor was successful this time. In February 1941, the Supreme Court overturned its decision in Hammer v. Dagenhart and upheld the validity of the Fair Labor Standards Act in United States v. Darby (1941). It remains in effect to this day.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (1938).
The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)