How the Developments of the 19th and 20th Centuries Impacted Childhood

How the developments of the 19th and 20th centuries impacted childhood

According to the United Nation Children’s Emergency Fund, childhood is a period when a child is given the chance to grow, be confident, have freedom, and experience family compassion. It is this period when parents should spend most of their time with the child and offer them significant guidance to mold them for the future life. In essence, it is a right that ought to be enjoyed in all circumstances and environments.  However, persons who grew in the 19th and 20th Centuries were unlucky not to enjoy their childhood due to different economic, social, and political challenges that affected the globe. Ideally, the two centuries were characterizedby aggressive warfare as several countries fought for their independence, religious intolerance, and scientific innovation whichengaged parents in one way or the other. The impact trickled down the family hierarchy where children could not have the ample time to develop. In contrast, they were involved in warfare and had to endure someharshsocial regulations. In viewof this, the paper will discuss how the 19th and 20thcentury’sdevelopments impacted on childhood in different parts of the globe. Despite the 19th and 20th century having significant human rights realization through nationalization, the industrial revolution, and scientific innovation, growing up in these two centuries was a daunting experience.

Segregation had a major impact on the children development in the 19thand 20th centuries where innocent children were forced to see their peers as enemies. In countries such as the United States, the practice was rife between the White and African-Americans in the cotton plantations. Children who were supposed to grow withoutlimitations had to attend different school based on their racialorientations. Ideally, thisrobbed children the ability to develop holisticallyby learning diverse cultures and having comprehensivecognitivedevelopments.Similarly, children growing in regions with strict religious regulations had a harsh time becausechildren of different genders could not be allowed to mingle together. According to Satrapi (2003), in the “Persepolis the story of a childhood” he quotes the religious and political turmoil in Iranas an important factor in achild’s social development. During this period, besides parents spending most of their time protesting in the streets for civil right, religious leaders controlled the education system, and various human rights were violated. Sahimi (2013) quotes the 1980-1988 as the bloodiest in the history of Iran. Ideally, this means that children had to endure harshenvironments, encountering street battles between human rights activists and the authorities, coupled up with the idea of learning in same gender schools.Evidently children growing during this period had no ample time to enjoy their childhood by playing andinteracting without observing particular regulations or fearing for their security.

The struggle for social rights was characterized by severe family divisions, where intolerance was met with harshpolitical reactions such as the assassination of activists. The common eventualitieswere either parent fleeing their countries or sending their children to countries with better human rights conditions. What that means was that a child had to handle the pressure of undergoing harsh environments to reach safe areas, learning new cultures at a younger age, and learning to live with single parents.  Taking a case of “A Woman” by Aleramo wherea child had to live without his parents on two occasions. First, when the father was participating in the army, and second, when the mother had to leave for another country due to domestic disputes.  The example enhances how nationalism efforts in the 19th and 20th century had an impact on a child’s parental care.  Concisely, serving in the army during this centuries meant staying away from home for years as different global alliestried to secure their territories and advance their economic ideologies. Such military activities had an impact on family ties where fathers did not have sufficienttime with their partners. Children raised in suchfamiliesdidnot have enough role model to guide them through significant childhood stages. The situation was worse in regionsthat incorporated children in warfare such as in Eastern Europe and Africa in the 19th century. In thesesocieties, children at the age of fifteen were considered mature enough to participate in the war front.  Such an early recruitment into the army meant the children grew up with a violent ideology and perpetuatedthe prevalence of racial differences over generations in the two centuries. For instance, King (1965) Quotes different child rights violation such as participating as family andsociety guards in the 19th and 20th centuries.Unlike the 21st century children who enjoytechnologyadvances, have valuable time with their parents and grow in countries with substantial human rights, children in the previous two centuries had to tolerate several social challenges, which impacted on their overall development.

The industrial revolution had various effects during the 19th and 20th century. Some of the effects were unbearable working conditions, poor living conditions, rapid urbanization growth, and worsened public health and reduced life expectancy. Similarly, the economic role of women declined and child labor spread at a high rate.  Children used to work in the company of their parents in their home farms in the previous generations, and this took a high toll during the era of industrial revolution since they could go to the Britain mills and factories with their parents. The working hours were long, hard labor and to some extent they were not receiving any pay and if they got paid it were meager (Perera, 2014). The reason as to why the factory owners preferred working with children was because they could be convinced easily, were easy to train and they could accept minimal wages without qualms. Consequently, this led to many industries exploiting children where they were forced to work long hours in difficult conditions. There were no age restrictions, supposed working hours or a standard pay for the children. Children were employed in mining companies, textile factories, construction sites, gas works, cotton mills, shipyards and nail factories and this exposed them to harmful chemicals like phosphorous. As a result of this, many children developed long-term health conditions, and even some of them died from being crushed between machines. 

Most of the children who worked in the coal mining industries and the iron mines developed chronic health conditions and died before they reached the age of twenty-five years.  The effects of child labor affected the psychological growth of the children severely. Notably, public figures had worked hard campaigning towards the stop of child labor which proved futile. The exploitation triggered reform, and the government chipped in by the middle of the nineteenth century in a bid to reduce child labor. By 1833 the reforms were that the children who were younger than nine years were not permitted to work, children between nine and thirteen years used to work for eight hours only and studied for two hours (Perera, 2014).  Later in 1847, the reforms were advanced and the women and children working time were ten hours a day.  It was later realized that the working conditions in the mining industries were still not favorable, and it was illegalized for children of thirteen years to work underground. The legislation presented an opportunity to phase out child labor which saw it decrease at a high rate.


King, M. (1965). History 30.4: History of Childhood (2nd ed., pp. 69-94). Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Perera, Frederica, (2014). SCIENCE as an early driver of policy: Child labor reform in the early progressive era, 1870-1900.American Journal of Public Health, 104(10), 1862-71. Retrieved from

Sahimini, M. (2013). Iran’s Bloody Decade of the 1980s. Retrieved 21 May 2016, from

Satrapi, M. (2003). Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, trans. Mattias Ripa and Blake Ferris.

UNICEF. UNICEF – SOWC05. Retrieved 21 May 2016, from