小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 儿童英文小说 » The Century of the Child » CHAPTER VIII CHILD LABOUR AND THE CRIMES OF CHILDREN
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
CHAPTER VIII CHILD LABOUR AND THE CRIMES OF CHILDREN
Leaving aside questions of heredity and kindred topics, and considering only the conditions under which the child is born, developed, and reared, it is terrible to contemplate the misfortunes which happen to children through lack of insight on the part of their mothers. Doctors are never tired of telling what malformations tight-lacing causes. How many children in the first year of their life become blind through neglect. We only mention here some of the troubles which crude ignorance or lack of conscience on the part of the mothers inflict on themselves or on their children. There must be noticed too the uncertainty and the want of system in the care of children that come from such ignorance. A thorough improvement in all these things is not to be expected until women have secured universal suffrage, and until they, at the same age in which men serve their years of military service, are legally obliged to pass through[Pg 317] a period of training lasting just as long, devoting themselves to the care of children, hygiene, and sick nursing. No other exceptions must be made, except those which exempt a man from military service. Such duties done for one's country would come for many women just at the time in which their interest in the subject is awakened by marrying or the thought of marrying. This training would give a profounder meaning to their thoughts on this subject. But even women who never become mothers themselves would in this way learn certain general principles of psychology, hygiene, and care of the sick, that they might make use of afterwards in every station of life. Further, I look for increasing limitations of the right of parents over children. Such limitations I mean as those which have forbidden the exposure of children, have imposed penalties for child murder, for cruelty towards children, and the laws which have enforced obligatory attendance at school. In England there are organisations which investigate the treatment of children at home and which prevent cruelties against them. Mothers who forget their duties can be reported and punished with imprisonment; neglectful fathers can be made to support their children,[Pg 318] etc.; and where parents show themselves hopelessly incompetent children can be taken from them by law. In the different states of Germany there are also laws which allow children to be taken from parents who, through misuse of that relationship, injure the child's spiritual or bodily welfare. Children receive this so-called compulsory training in cases, too, where it is necessary to preserve them from moral destruction. The compulsory training may be carried out either in a suitable family or in institutions; it continues up to the eighteenth year. A notable provision is that which places the supervision over such children, in the hands of women.

An increased extension of the right of society in this direction is one of its most important provisions for self-protection, and is just as legitimate a limitation of individual freedom, as the laws to prevent the extension of contagious diseases. Unfortunately such regulations are often made ineffective by red tape. The parents or guardians of the neglected child must be admonished; the unruly child must be warned, and if this is not sufficient, the law provides that it must be disciplined. All of these provisos are absolutely senseless in such cases. By such warnings[Pg 319] bad parents are not instructed in the art of training their children, nor is an incorrigible child to be led by admonitions to change its character, if he is left in the surroundings which have caused his degeneration. By corporal punishment administered in the presence of witnesses, a child already accustomed to cuffs and blows is made more hardened and shameless. A person with only a superficial knowledge of the subject, enough to understand the causes which produce such parents and such children, soon realises that he is concerned in each detail with the infinite horizon of the social question. It is clear for example that low wages, combined with the work of women and children, are the main factors in poor dwellings, insufficient food, and bad clothing. The fact that the wife works out of the house causes the neglect of the children and the home. The lodging-house system is the result of the lack of dwellings; want of comfort at home causes the husband to frequent saloons and public houses. All these factors, taken together, cause immorality and intemperance; these last again produce those physical and mental diseases to which children are often heirs at their birth.

Leaving out of discussion the notion that[Pg 320] by God's help the battlefields are covered with torn, maimed beings, with whose destroyed brains innumerable thoughts and feelings are extinguished which could have enriched humanity, I know no more abnormal idea than the custom of people speaking of a guardian angel when a chance has kept two children from an accident. Where is this guardian angel in the innumerable other cases of misfortune: when children remain alone because their mother must go to work and they fall out of the window or into the fire? When they lose their eyesight in dark cellars? When they are pressed to death because in miserable lodgings they have to share a bed with their parents? When the parents are drunk and the children lose their lives? Where is this guardian angel when parents murder their children, from religious fanaticism or disgust of life: when the children themselves, tired of life or through fear of parental cruelty, take their own lives? Where are these protective angels on the occasions when they are most wanted?—in the narrow streets of great cities, in the great industrial centres where lack of sunlight, of pure air, and of all the other primary conditions for the development of soul and body, undermines the bodily strength[Pg 321] and efficiency of children before their birth?

To see the hand of Providence in an accidental case of preservation, while the same Providence is released from all share in natural occurrences, from all part in the terrible phenomena of society, that fill every second of the earth's existence with terror, is a relic of superstition to be overcome if man is to be filled with a sense of obligation to conditions he must master and mould. Modern man is ever becoming more and more his own Providence; he has already protected himself against fire by fire engines and fire insurance; against the sea by life-saving stations; against smallpox and cholera, diphtheria and tuberculosis, he has found other means of defence. The blind belief that death is dependent on God's will man is losing by the witness of statistics which declare that duration of life increases with improved sanitary condition; which show that when disease or summer heat mows down the children of the poor in dark tenements the rich man can preserve his own children in his healthy, light dwelling.

Every man who has his heart in the right spot does not wait for an angel, but rushes to save a child from danger. But the supersti[Pg 322]tious belief of the majority of people in God's Providence perhaps will cause the same man to regard with complete apathy conditions by which millions and millions of children are yearly sacrificed. Doctors know that the destruction caused by bacteria is insignificant, as compared with pauperism as a cause of disease. Mothers who have over-exerted themselves, drunken fathers, bad dwellings, like those where the poor dry out newly built houses for the rich, induced by the low rate of rents, insufficient nourishment, inherited diseases, especially syphilis, too early work,—all this shows its result in the emaciated, shrivelled, ulcerated bodies of children who occasionally are cured of their momentary disease in hospitals, but cannot be freed from the results of the conditions of life under which they were born and brought up. The efforts of doctors will be in vain while they, like the other factors in society, do not devote their whole energy to avoiding diseases, instead of healing them. What they can now do in the way of prevention is but a palliative in comparison with the incurable evil which flourishes in abundance. The situation will remain as it is so long as hygiene does not receive the same attention in society as the soul. This solicitude may take[Pg 323] the form of religious edification, or intellectual enlightenment, but it remains nothing but a cut flower, stuck in a dust heap.

It is possible, with sufficient certainty, to show from criminal statistics that degenerate children are the creation of society itself. By allowing them to be forced into "the path of virtue," by punishment, society behaves like a tyrant, who has put out a man's eyes and then beats him because he cannot by himself find his road.

The categorical imperative for the social consciousness at the present moment, is an effective legislation for the protection of children and women.

Wherever industry is developed, the woman is taken away from the home, the child from play and school. In the period of guilds, women and children worked in the house, and in the workshop of the husband. But since the factory system has constantly restricted the household work of woman, industrial occupations on the scale of modern capitalism can satisfy its needs for cheaper work by woman's work. This like children's work has forced down in many places the pay of adult workmen. The pay with which a married man can care for his family by his work is now divided[Pg 324] among several members of the family. As long as special work required great personal bodily strength or developed manual dexterity, it fell as a rule to the men, not to women or children. But the natural protection of women and children disappeared with the introduction of machinery. In many cases working a machine required neither strength nor dexterity. In other cases, like cotton spinning or mining, delicate fingers were more valued because they were more adaptable, tender bodies more desirable because they were smaller.

In England the work of women and children first reached its highest point. The poorhouses sent crowds of children to the wool weaving industry in Lancashire, children who worked in shifts at the same machine and slept in the same dirty beds. The population in the industrial districts pined away, as the result; diseases unknown before came into existence; ignorance and roughness increased. Women and children from four to five years old worked fourteen to eighteen hours. The report of the investigations made on this subject caused Elizabeth Barrett to write her poem, "The Cry of the Children" that made the employers of children so indignant, but which helped to produce the Ten Hour bill.[Pg 325] This bill laid down that women, children, and young persons should not work more than ten hours a day in textile factories. This law was succeeded by others of the same type. Similar conditions in other lands have produced similar legislation. In Saxony, Belgium, Alsace, and the Rhine Provinces the results of the system seemed to be just as frightful as in England. On the Rhine, as early as the year 1838, a Prussian army officer noticed that the number of those able to bear arms had diminished as a result of the degenerating influence of woman and child labour. But notwithstanding the introduction of this legislation generally, the labour of women and children continues. It takes the most destructive forms in those occupations which lie outside of the sphere of legislation. There are places in which child labour is as shocking as it was in England in 1848. In Russia, in the Bastmat weaving industry, children of three or four years have been found at work; and masses of children under ten working as much as eighteen hours a day. In Germany the toy industry can show as cruel figures in connection with children's work, all the more cruel because in order to provide enjoyment for happy children the living energy of others is forced[Pg 326] out of existence. Industrial work at home is done by children four to five years old, while the age limit for child labour in factories, both in Germany and in Switzerland, is fourteen years. The government of Denmark has proposed the same limit of age. In Italy most of the crippled young children were brought up in the sulphur districts of Sicily, crowded together in low galleries, burdened with heavy sacks at an age at which their tender limbs under such conditions must inevitably and incurably be contorted. As early as twelve and thirteen years old many of them are incapable of work. In the magnesium mines of Spain, quantities of children six to eight years old are kept at work; through the poisonous odours they fall victims to severe diseases. Other children carrying heavy pitchers on their head are employed to water dry places. The child is a cheaper means of transportation than the ass.

Despite protective legislation the average of height and weight in the Lancashire children is and continues to be lower than anywhere else. Of the two thousand children investigated in this district only one hundred and fifty-one were really sound and strong; one hundred and ninety-eight were seriously crip[Pg 327]pled; the rest more or less under the standard of good health. All work in the cotton industry done from six o'clock in the morning till five in the evening changes, so this doctor says, the hopeful ten-year-old child into the thin pallid thirteen-year-old boy. This degeneration of the population in industrial districts is becoming a serious danger for England's future.

After people are convinced that all civilised nations are exposed to this same danger, industrial and street work of children will be everywhere forbidden. This will be a victory for the principle of child protection, which, in this as in other like spheres, was opposed at first on both economic and industrial grounds. Among these was the uncontested right of fathers to decide on the work of their children.

It is not alone the question of child labour that reveals the low standpoint taken by the civil authorities of Europe, but it is proved also by the introduction of corporal punishment. Corporal punishment is as humiliating for him who gives it as for him who receives it; it is ineffective besides. Neither shame nor physical pain have any other effect than a hardening one, when the blow is delivered in cold blood long after the act occasioning it has[Pg 328] been done. Most of the victims are so accustomed to blows already that the physical effect is little or nothing, but they awaken feelings of detestation against a society which so avenges its own faults. If the soul of the child is sensitive, corporal punishment can produce deep spiritual torment, as was the case with Lars Kruse, the hero of Skagen, who some years ago met his death by drowning. Everybody knows his story from the fine account of him by the Danish poet, Drachmann. Lars, in his childhood, had taken a plank, a piece of driftwood, and sold it. For this he was condemned to be punished. Till late in life, what he had suffered was ever present with him. He was not ashamed of his action but of his punishment—a punishment which embittered the whole life of a really great character.

The blows administered by society are inflicted on children whose poverty and neglected education are in most cases responsible for their faults. The victims, often emaciated by hunger, and trembling with shame or terror, can experience no spiritual emotion fit to be the basis of moral shame.

If the statistics of the life-history of those who are so disciplined were revealed, we should find that the majority come from, and return[Pg 329] to, a home where the mother, as a result of working out of the home, is hindered from caring for her children. They have suffered from the custom of sleeping together, the result of overcrowded dwellings, with its demoralising influence. It may be the child has commenced to make his living on the street as messenger, cigar picker, or newspaper boy, or has been engaged in such like occupations, and so in his immediate neighbourhood has seen the luxurious living of the upper classes, which he strives to imitate. Hardly a week passes that the street youngster does not read about the embezzlements, fraudulent acts in the capitalistic classes, frequently committed by grey-headed men, whose childish impressions go back to the good old time, on whom the lax education of the present could not have any influence. No day passes in which he does not see how the representatives of the upper classes, old and young alike, satisfy their desires for pleasure. But from the child of the tenement and the street, people expect Spartan virtue or try to thrash it into him. It is hard to say which is greater here, stupidity or savagery.

While the upper classes show that they are crude, immoderate, lazy, devoted to enjoying[Pg 330] themselves; while the majority are aiming at getting and spending money; while so many are able to eat without working, and so few can find work who look for it; while careless luxury lives side by side with careless necessity, the upper class has not the shadow of right to expect an improved lower class. The society of the present day creates and maintains a social system whose effects are notorious in the economic crimes of the upper and lower class alike. It is not surprising that great cities are full of tramps and street urchins, like a spoilt cheese full of maggots.

A destroyed home life, an idiotic school system, premature work in the factory, stupefying life in the streets, these are what the great city gives to the children of the under classes. It is more astonishing that the better instincts of human nature generally are victorious in the lower class, than the fact that this result is occasionally reversed.

There is another argument against child labour, to be found in its immediate effect on industry itself.

Working men trained in the schools are everywhere notoriously most efficient; even in Russia, where popular education is still so defective, this experience has been noted. The[Pg 331] working man able to read and to write receives without exception on that account a higher pay than the illiterate ones who can be only used for the coarsest kind of work. The present development of German industry, as compared with English, is to be ascribed among other things to the superior educational training of the German people. The intensive and intelligent work of the American working man has apparently the same cause. But when children made sleepy by work in the factory enter evening schools, or when children are taken too early from school, they lose under continuous hard work the desire and possibility of adapting themselves to a higher education; they become organic machines which feed the inorganic ones. This must cause the value of their work to decline. These organic machines are passive, they do not try to improve their condition of life, as do the higher workmen. Besides living machines cannot increase the product of labour. Intelligent working men who watch over their own rights and increase them are also those who learn easiest new methods of work, discover new inventions which are of advantage to their line of work, and so increase the value of their product. It is only by the[Pg 332] growth of this class of workmen, that any country to-day can stand the pressure of foreign competition. But the chief condition of this growth is that the bodily and mental powers of the child shall be used for his own development in school games and play; at the same time his capacity for work must be trained by occupation at home and in the technical school, not by work in a factory.

Some years ago, a poem created a furore over the whole civilised world, from Canada to the islands of Polynesia. The author of this poem, Edwin Markham, was inspired by Millet's simple and wonderful picture, The Man with the Hoe. An agricultural labourer with bowed back stands there, one hand folded on the other, supported on the handle of the hoe. Millet in him has eternalised the expression so often observed in old workmen, especially in those who are worn out by day labour. The man's face is empty, says nothing, every human aspect has disappeared; we only see in his face the look of the patient beast of burden. For while moderate work ennobles the animal in man, immoderate work kills humanity in the beast.

Millet's picture was to the poet, who was once himself a slave to bodily labor, a revelation,[Pg 333] the eternal artistic type of the generation of man bowed down from childhood under the yoke of labour. In one strophe after another of that finely conceived poem he pictures this being that does not sorrow, and never hopes, his destroyed soul for which Plato and the Pleiades, the sunrise and the rose, all the treasures of mind and nature, are nothing. The poet asks sovereigns, masters, and governors how they will restore to this thing a soul, how they will give it music and dreams. What, he asks, will become of the people who have made this being what it is now; when after a thousand years' silence God's terrible question is answered,—What has become of his soul.

Many such employers of labour go to church, they hear explanations of texts like these, "Inasmuch as ye did it unto ... even the least of these, ... ye did it unto me. All that ye wish others should do to you, that do to them." It does not occur to them to think how Jesus, the most inconsiderate of men, at the right place, would have characterised their demands to have small children employed in glass works at ten years of age. It never occurs to them to ask whether they would like to see their own children in these factories or others like them.[Pg 334]

This complete dualism between life and teaching in our present-day society will continue to exist until people realise that the opinions about life which are expressed by the lips, but are denied by deeds, should no longer be proclaimed as an absolute explanation of life and rule of life. The permanent element in Christianity can only be realised through the conviction that mankind is master of Christianity just as it is over all its other creations. The ardent idea of the Galilean carpenter, fraternity among men, will give man no rest until man has wiped out the last trace of injustice in his social relations. But the thought will not be realised by those ideals regarded by Jesus as absolute. This is the point of view which has crippled man's conscience and it applies equally to the realisation of this and all other ideals. An ideal impossible to carry out under the ordinary assumptions of human life, yet to which men have given the authority of a divine revelation, and which they conceive of as absolute, this is the main cause for the demoralisation which has gone on for nineteen hundred years. The history of humanity has really revealed to men how this absolute ideal of theirs has been betrayed. The cause of this demoralisation must cease before existence[Pg 335] can be remodelled seriously by those who are convinced that ideals can really be binding.

People will then not do as they do now, misuse the name of the Father, whom Jesus has taught men to proclaim with their lips, will not murder one another en masse on the battlefield, to solve political and economic questions of supremacy. A society which calls itself Christian will no longer tolerate capital punishment, prostitution, stock exchange gambling, and child slavery. Men will not then as they do now, learn on their mother's breast to love their neighbours as themselves, and then tread in the footsteps of their fathers, trampling one another down in the struggle for bread.

Our reverence for God will then be found in our capacity to humanise existence by humanising the human race.

The youth of our day have not always successfully passed out of the Christian circles of ideals into another circle. The successful method would be to face immediately new purposes and aims that are really believed, and for which men wish to live. But many of our young generation know of no new purposes and aims in which they can believe. Hence comes that spiritual apathy which has mas[Pg 336]tered a great part of the young generation. Without undervaluing the influences of environment, I still believe that young people who have lost their ideals without getting new ones in their place are to be pitied. The young who are not making ideals out of their own souls will have no other time than this to find ideals. A generation of young men of this type laughed at Socrates. They would have nailed Jesus of Nazareth to the Cross, with a shrug of the shoulders; they would have become, undoubtedly, in 1789, emigrés with the Bourbons.

When the youth of any period remains without ideals, we pass through a fin de siècle period no matter what the exact date may be. But when the young generation is inspired with the feeling of having great acts to do, a new century begins. It is always the fortunate right of young people to stimulate individualism before everything else. This is done every time a young person full of sound egoism develops his own personality completely and powerfully, throws himself keenly into the struggle for his own fortune. Any one who takes his individual development seriously will find that it is hard to become an independent, noble, and exalted personality by treading[Pg 337] underfoot other individuals. He will moreover see that it makes more demands on his personal powers to try to create new values by new means, to devote his youthful energy to new tasks, than to look back to ideas that are already exhausted. There is another truth the young man will soon find to be valid. If an individual throws himself into the struggle of life without consideration for any one else, he is all the more likely to get hurt in the struggle. The more developed, too, an individual is, the more assailable points there are about him to be wounded. Great pain, as well as great happiness, is for great men a part of the fulness of life. Failures of a personality are often better proofs that it is above the average than its victories. But failures, even if they frequently leave our innermost personality shattered, can be borne, when we have learnt that there is a bandage to heal our own wounds, the bandage, I mean, that we lay on the wounds of others.

No real man needs to wait until life has taught him, to sympathise with others. The inspiring age of youth may experience this, as well as the strong individual feeling of power. In this sense, many remain ever young, always able to pass through inspired moments,[Pg 338] such moments when a great action, a great truth, a great and beautiful thing, or great good fortune, absorbs our whole existence; moments when our eyes fill with tears, when our arms stretch out to embrace the world and the thoughts which it contains. Such moments include the most intensive emotion of our own personality; at the same time they bring the fullest absorption in the common feeling of existence as a whole. A great life means giving continuity of action to such inspired moments.

There are young people who can look back on no such moments, who arrogantly look down on the problems of their times from the height of their "superman" theories or from their superior learning; who measure them by the iron law of historical development. At all times there have been such people. There is no question in which it is more fatal for young people to isolate themselves, than that which deals with social conflicts. This age requires the young above all others to test this question from all points of view, to investigate all other ideas in connection with it. Every reform plan must be investigated in connection with its influence on the problems of individualism and socialism. From youth we have[Pg 339] a right to expect something for the future. This hope implies that youth, in approaching it, in thinking and acting for the many whose lot it is the immediate task of the future to improve, adopt as their own the words of Walt Whitman, "I do not ask whether my wounded brother suffers; I will myself be this wounded brother."

The End


欢迎访问英文小说网http://novel.tingroom.com

©英文小说网 2005-2010

有任何问题,请给我们留言,管理员邮箱:tinglishi@gmail.com  站长QQ :点击发送消息和我们联系56065533

鲁ICP备05031204号