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STREET LABOR AND JUVENILE DELINQUENCY.
PROGRESSIVE civilization tends increasingly to subor
dinate immediate needs to future and greater ends. The adequate protection of children demands the same large spirit: a subordination of immediate earning capacity in the child to his future physical and mental growth. Experience abroad and in this country has stamped premature labor as not only cruel but conspicuously short-sighted, an injustice to the child and an economic waste for the community. A gradual recognition of this truth is reflected in the slowly increasing legal protection of working children, as state after state ranges itself on the side of a self-interest more clear-sighted as well as more righteous. Like other reforms this has been impeded by individual interests and retarded by inertia on the part of the public; and to scrutinize the existing laws in their variety is to realize what great gaps remain to be filled before legislation for child workers shall exhibit an enlightened uniformity.
Up to the present time certain essentials have been embodied in the best child-labor laws. A standard is gradually evolving in which the most important measures of protection are defined. These may be briefly stated as follows:
1. A child should not be allowed to work under a certain age.
2. A child should not be allowed to work if it is illiterate or physically defective.
3. A child should not be allowed to work longer than a specified number of hours in the day and in the week, and never at night.
4. A child should not be allowed to work at any trade injurious to health or morals, or where there is dangerous machinery.
In America legislation for the protection of children has hitherto developed along these lines. The most advanced states are every year securing higher age limits, shorter hours and other ameliorations; but many of the states still fall short of even the minimum standard. It is of course necessary to extend such restrictions; but there is also imperative need for new measures
such measures, to mention three examples, as have been adopted in Eng
land and on the Continent concerning home industries, the dangerous trades and the street trades.
Among the employments heretofore ignored by American legislators or but recently regulated are the so-called street trades. In the following pages the term is used to include the trades of the newsboy, the messenger boy and the child peddler. The three trades, thus classed under one head, differ widely, it is true, and no one protective measure applies to them all. Yet in so far as a life on the street is in greater or less degree their common characteristic, it is convenient to treat the three together.
The standing of these trades before the law has in the past varied in different states. Until the New York state legislature adopted, in 1903, a measure for the protection of the newsboy, this typical street worker was ignored in all the state laws which protect other child workers. The city of Boston alone had in 1898 adopted some ordinances in his behalf. The messengers have been cared for in some of the states by the same laws which deal with children working in shops. In New York the messengers were practically without the protection of any law before the legislation of 1903. The peddlers in New York and other states have been covered by some provisions of the Penal Code, but in New York the provision against peddling is inadequately drawn and fails to accomplish its object.
Before the legislation of 1903 the evils of the street trades in New York City, to which the following discussion is confined, had not been generally recognized. The investigation, however, which preceded that legislation brought out damaging evidence against these trades. The early ages of the street workers, the irregularities of their lives and the lawlessness of their environment were shown to be ruining a large proportion of the thousands engaged in such work. Street life, often defended as a school for sharpening the wits, was declared on the contrary to be chiefly a training for the reformatory. Some years ago, before the legislation for the street trades was enacted in England, similar testimony was there elicited. In a valuable parliamentary report on the earnings of school children (1901), the news trade is specifically designated “a hot-bed of vice and crime."
If this condemnation is deserved, if street workers tend to degenerate into petty criminals, the proof should be found in those places of restraint to which boys are committed who have fallen into the hands of the law. How many of the boys in a given reformatory, for example, were, as a matter of fact, once newsboys or messengers or peddlers? Is their number large enough to indicate that the trade they followed led to their fall? Have the street workers been committed to reformatories in greater numbers than workers at other trades? To what moral dangers did their respective employments subject them? It was to answer these and similar questions that a careful study was made of the antecedents of boys at two of our largest reformatories: the New York Juvenile Asylum and the Catholic Protectory."
Those who have had occasion to investigate the condition of working children will appreciate the difficulty of getting correct figures or trustworthy statements of fact. The data herein used were obtained from the written statements of the boys; from a comparison of those statements with the records of the institutions in the case of the younger children - in the case of all boys of twelve years and below that age at the Juvenile Asylum, all boys of ten years and below that age at the Protectory; and from personal interviews with the boys — a source of information which proved more valuable than either of the others. The official records consist of a bald array of facts and were only of limited usefulness, serving to verify ages and other facts stated by the boys, but forming a meagre description of any individual. Fortunately the outlines of each case could be at least partly filled in by other means. The Juvenile Asylum visitor's personal acquaintance with many of the boys' homes enabled her to add illuminating facts regarding family conditions, the relation between parents and children and the need for the children's assistance. At the Protectory a valuable set of questions has been made out for the home investigation, covering the child's past and his home circumstances; but unfortunately this investigation has lapsed, owing to the death of the former investigator and to the fact that no suc
· For the kind coöperation of the authorities of both institutions, thanks are due to Mr. C. D. Hilles, the superintendent, and Miss H. M. Hall, the visitor of the Juvenile Asylum; and to President Robinson and the Rev. Brother Henry of the Protectory.
cessor has yet' been found. It is greatly to be hoped that this important inquiry will again be undertaken, and that employment in the street trades will be included under “previous occupation.” If also the question as to previous employment shall be added to the inquiries addressed to all newcomers at the Juvenile Asylum, when their past is still fresh in their remembrance, a valuable body of information upon child labor run to crime will be gathered for future reference.
In the following pages, newsboys, messengers and peddlers are separately treated, and facts regarding boys of the same trade, whether confined at the Protectory or at the Juvenile Asylum, are bfought together. The home conditions of boys in the Juvenile Asylum are more often noticed, thanks to the more abundant information collected at that institution.
The newsboys. — It is often triumphantly asserted, in defence of the news trade, that not a few men of prominence have first earned a livelihood on the streets. That newspaper selling does not regularly lead to success is, nevertheless, indicated by the fact that in two of our largest reformatories, to speak of no others, ex-newsboys make up a large proportion of those who were engaged in any occupation before commitment.
At the Juvenile Asylum, it was found upon investigation that 311 of the boys confined there had worked at various trades before commitment. Of this number, 125 or forty per cent had been newsboys. At the Protectory, five classes of the senior department, comprising about three hundred boys, were questioned. Nearly forty per cent of these, viz. 110, had sold papers. This significant proportion of ex-newsboys in confinement raises a legitimate presumption against the trade.
The extreme youth at which many of them began to work is an item of significance. At the Juvenile Asylum the greater number began selling papers at ages ranging up to twelve years, as follows:
This makes a total of 80 boys who began between four and twelve. years of age, as against 43 boys who began at thirteen and fourteen years, and one at fifteen. At the Protectory the proportion of newsboys who began while very small is even larger:
The number who began at ages between twelve and fourteen is 36, and two began at fifteen. This gives a total of 109 ex-newsboys, of whom one-half, 55, started to sell papers when between five and ten years of age.
The employment of children at such tender ages leads one to presuppose dire need. Destitution and, in particular, the alleged necessities of widowed mothers in fact constitute the standard argument against any restriction of the street trades as regards children. In such cases it is generally maintained that any contribution that the child can make is not only justifiable, but commendable; that the claim of the widowed mother for assistance should be paramount. Indeed, the needy widow cannot fail to evoke sympathy and solicitude. Responsibilities and duties, often heavy for two to bear, fall to her unaided hands. Struggling for respectability or sunk in poverty, she has somehow to meet the problem of providing for her children.
The difficulty of the widow's lot must be granted; but it should be noted that the conspicuous hardship of her position has given to her claims an entirely unwarranted prominence. Children of widowed mothers are not, as is often assumed, typical of the whole class of newsboys. The number of children supporting their mothers has been grossly exaggerated. The statistics of the reformatories, corroborating the statements of careful observers, show that the children of widows who sell papers form but a small minority of the newsboys. Of 80 children at the Asylum between four and twelve years of age, those driven by destitution to sell papers numbered but 21, as against 60 for whose entry into the trade no such reason existed. Further, these 21 destitute cases include total orphans and the sons of disabled fathers