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The Ten Hours Movement and the Rights of Childhood

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It is generally accepted that sustained public discussion of children’s rights is of relatively recent origin. In this article I endeavour to demonstrate that a powerful discourse of children’s rights emerged in Britain in the 1830s in connection with the campaign of the Ten Hours Movement to limit the hours of labour of children in the textile industries. The Movement asserted that factory children, no less than those more privileged, had rights to life, health, physical protection, education, play, a caring family life and a happy childhood, and argued that these rights were grounded in both the law of nature and the laws of God. Opposing the doctrines of utilitarianism and political economy, the Movement maintained that the absolute nature of these rights meant that they overrode pragmatic considerations and that social arrangements which precluded their realisation should be changed to accommodate children’s needs.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Social Sciences, The University of Hull, UK,


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