A BRIEF HISTORY OF INSTITUTIONAL ABUSE IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (including Colonial America): Part 2
By Angela Smith, HEAL Coordinator
What was life like for children in the 1600s?
"Forms of child labor, including indentured servitude and child slavery, have existed throughout American history. As industrialization moved workers from farms and home workshops into urban areas and factory work, children were often preferred, because factory owners viewed them as more manageable, cheaper, and less likely to strike. Growing opposition to child labor in the North caused many factories to move to the South. By 1900, states varied considerably in whether they had child labor standards and in their content and degree of enforcement. By then, American children worked in large numbers in mines, glass factories, textiles, agriculture, canneries, home industries, and as newsboys, messengers, bootblacks, and peddlers." Source: https://www.continuetolearn.uiowa.edu/laborctr/child_labor/about/us_history.html
"As early as 1642, Massachusetts had a law that gave magistrates the authority to remove children from parents who did not "train up" their children properly. In 1735, an orphan girl in Georgia was rescued from a home where she was sexually abused.8 In 1866, Massachusetts passed a law authorizing judges to intervene in the family when "by reason of orphanage or of the neglect, crime, drunkenness or other vice of parents," a child was "growing up without education or salutary control, and in circumstances exposing said child to an idle and dissolute life."9 Whether or not a statute authorized intervention, judges had inherent authority to stop abuse." Source: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publishing/insights_law_society/ChildProtectionHistory.authcheckdam.pdf
In the above quote, the meaning of "train up" is to teach to read and write, not batter into subservience.
"In 1642, Massachusetts Bay Colony passed the first law in the New World requiring that children be taught to read and write. The English Puritans who founded Massachusetts believed that the well-being of individuals, along with the success of the colony, depended on a people literate enough to read both the Bible and the laws of the land. Concerned that parents were ignoring the first law, in 1647 Massachusetts passed another one requiring that all towns establish and maintain public schools. It would be many years before these schools were open to all children. Only in the mid-nineteenth century was universal free public schooling guaranteed – in time, made compulsory — for Massachusetts children." Source: http://www.massmoments.org/moment.cfm?mid=113
In 2014, 23% of United States citizens are illiterate. The inability to read, write, and comprehend written works and communications has a devastating impact on child welfare and overall human rights. Source: http://washingtoncountyliteracycouncil.org/. 60% of individuals incarcerated in the United States in 2014 are illiterate.
"Youth crime has been strongly linked to illiteracy and truancy. Government figures for 2002 – 2003 show 40% of young offenders entering prison were below level 1 (i.e. would not achieve a G at GCSE English). This is also true of adult offenders, with 80% having the writing skills of an 11 year old.
This is not the only factor. There are often deeper language and communication difficulties which drastically limit an offender's ability to respond in emotionally laden situations, making it more likely that they will lash out and be violent.
These individuals are also likely to have been the victims of abuse of violence themselves. For some children a group of their peers may provide more care and protection than can be found at home or school. For them it may be a rational choice to join a gang rather than be left out of one." Source: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2008/sep/01/pupilbehaviour.classroomviolence
As you can see, coupling modern knowledge with long-term problems adversely affecting children as a class in the United States, we find an overall pattern of progress towards universal human rights by some and resistance to progress by those who stand to lose their ignorant, easily controlled, and subservient "employees" should better human rights laws be enacted and enforced.
What about institutional abuse of children in Colonial America?
HEAL considers slavery and indentured servitude to be forms of institutional abuse and therefore such is covered in the above discussion. In addition, we can look at the abuses at "orphanages" or the "boarding schools" of the 17th century.
"Valentina Tikoff’s essay provides a history of the orphanages in Seville from the late 1600s to the early 1800s. Through institutional policies and family strategies, many children who still had one or even two living parents ended up in the care of “orphanages.” What we might think of as orphanages would more properly be called the foundling home in eighteenth-century Seville. This was simply the place where abandoned babies passed through before ending up in the care of a wet nurse, if they even survived that long. In contrast, the “orphanages” were more like boarding schools, where children might, for example, be trained as sailors.
Widowed parents pressed the authorities to admit their children to these institutions, which in fact became quite socially selective." Source: http://www.ncsu.edu/acontracorriente/fall_08/von_germet_rev.pdf
"In the United States, an early means of caring for orphans was by indenture. The first American child was indentured in 1636, in Massachusetts. Indenture was often free labor rather than protection. Later, children were placed in almshouses with their parents, and the feeling was that they would set children on a road to life, "free from permanent ignorance, pauperism, and vice." By the mid 1800s they were recognized as just the opposite. Yet, in 1927, there were still children placed in almshouses throughout the country." Source: http://www.childrenservices.org/directservices/USAhistory.html
What we have here in 2014, is a system that has changed its names and claims while continuing to operate as 17th century child labor and abuse institutions. It is important for advocates and activists to understand the long history of institutional abuse in the United States in its many forms and the efforts over time to improve conditions for children in the US and around the world. What we are seeing in 2014 is not only resistance to continuing progress, but, intentional opposition to progress with intent to return to and/or continue exploiting families and traffick in children. This issue is understood from a variety of perspectives by a wide variety of people and organizations. Those who wish to engage in the movement for progress including teen liberty, must understand what progress has been made overtime and what we can do to protect and reinforce existing policies and laws as well as enhance policies and laws to better protect children and families.