“The U.N. General Assembly declared on December 12, 1976 that the 20th anniversary of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, 1979, be the INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF THE CHILD (lYC). . . an occasion to reaffirm, not by words alone but by deeds, that the well-being of today’s children is the concern of all people everywhere and that it is in separately linked with the peace and prosperity of tomorrow’s world.” (George Oliver Taylor, Discipliana, Vol. 39, No. 1, p. 6.) Discipliana is a journal of the Disciples Historical Society. The cover of the Spring Issue in 1979 and its lead article were devoted to The Year of the Child.
The author briefly noted the place of children throughout history and the church: Infanticide was common in ancient Rome, fathers could sell their children into slavery, and, in the time of Henry VIII, vagrant children were rounded up and bound to apprenticeships until their early 20s (apprenticeships were a form of indentured servanthood/slavery). Today, it should be a frightening and morally reprehensible act to consider reinstating child labor laws that reverse the gains made for child safety and recognition of their human dignity.
Children are not their parents’ property: They are our sacred obligation. The same can be said with regard to the community: Children, their safety, and well-being are our sacred obligations. When the disciples of Jesus were irritated that Jesus was taking time to heal children, Jesus chastised them. Jesus’ take on children was countercultural in his day and, regrettably, that is still true today.
Washington Gladden and Walter Rauschenbusch were among the theological architects of what became known as the Social Gospel, a social movement within Protestantism that sought to address–among other societal dilemmas–poverty, economic inequality, alcoholism, and child labor. Simply put, it’s about loving our neighbor.
The current spate of state laws being proposed and passed in the United States suffer from amnesia; morally, they are anathema. Churches spoke up and acted out to oppose child labor starting in the 1800s. May the admonition of Jesus across the centuries lull us out of complacency to follow the example of our forbearers in the faith.
To learn more about the history of child labor in the United States as archived by the United States Bureau of Labor, visit the link below: https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2017/article/history-of-child-labor-in-the-united-states-part-1.htm