The struggle for the rights of children
On April 9, 1912, U.S. President William Howard Taft signed into law legislation which established a Children’s Bureau with responsibility for investigating and reporting “upon all matters pertaining to the welfare of children and child life of all social classes.” The Children’s Bureau came under the remit of the Department of Labor in 1913 upon its establishment.
Two Democrats, Edward Keating of Colorado and Robert Owen of Oklahoma co-sponsored the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act of 1916, following an investigation into child labour in manufacturing and industrial workplaces. It was the first act which addressed child labour practices in the United States. The act sought to prevent interstate trade and commerce in goods which had been produced as a result of child labour.
However, the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act was deemed unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court two years later, which was a big setback for the rights of these children. It would take another twenty years, with the introduction of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 before meaningful and lasting change was to be brought about. Under the act, a minimum wage of 25 cents per hour was introduced and the working week was set at 44 hours, before being reduced to 40 hours in 1940. Most significantly of all, the Fair Labor Standards Act brought about an end to child labour, by making the employment of children under the age of eighteen in coal mining and under hazardous industries illegal.