Throughout history, child labor has always been present; it is certainly not a new phenomenon. Children served as domestic servants, apprentices, assistants in the family business, and farmers during preindustrial times. Many families before and during the early 19th century were rural families that kept farms for their source of food, income, and other necessary provisions. Maintaining the farm was not only the responsibility of the parents, but also the responsibility of the children. They worked on the fields and helped tend to the livestock. In Britain, boys usually worked in the fields and tended to the drought animals, while the girls, in some instances, worked outside and did light tasks such as milking cows and caring for the chickens. Girls were also known to do domestic work inside of the home. This particular type of labor was accepted by society because it was not seen as exploitive or abusive, rather it was viewed as a necessary practice that ensured the survival of the family. This work was also seen as necessary training for children, which would ensure that they would be prepared to take over the family farm or business. Also, this training prepared children to go out and start their own business once they reached a certain age. For example, in Britain during the preindustrial era, once boys turned twenty-one, they were able to go out and start their own business. Girls, on the other hand, were prepared to go off and become a domestic servant who cooked, cleaned, and raised children. The child labor prohibited in the preindustrial era was seen as a necessity towards the development of children's life and work skills, and was overall, not intended to exploit children or intentionally harm them. The intensity of labor that children experienced would evolve drastically once the Industrial Revolution was ushered in during the 18th and 19th century.

The Industrial Revolution was a period of drastic change and growth in the realms of agriculture, technology, transportation, manufacturing, and mining. During this period, societies that were heavily dependent on agriculture to survive shifted to mechanization. The world was introduced to new innovative ways to efficiently mass-produce and trade beyond their small towns, cities, and national borders. An improvement in iron making and textile manufacturing would be two of the most important techniques developed to launch the Industrial Revolution. Yet, one of the most influential inventions that helped facilitate the progression of the Industrial Revolution was the Watt steam engine, which was the first steam engine powered by coal. It was developed by James Watt and Matthew Bouton. The creation of the steam engine not only expanded trade, but it also revealed to the world the wonders of steam power produced by coal. As result of steam power created by coal, it was possible to power machines. In effect, factories began to emerge, and along with it, industrial cities began to take formation. Much of the population in the rural areas migrated to these new industrialized cities in mass numbers in order to take advantage of the opportunity to work.

Many factories operating in the city needed hands, but not hands that had the ability to strike for benefits and a higher payment. Considering that adult strength was not required in a factory that was mechanized, many factories decided to employ the most vulnerable and exploitive beings in society, which were the children. Some children were sold from orphanages and workhouses. Children were employed as " Pauper apprentices" and "Scavengers." They worked in hazardous conditions, which stripped many of them of their lives at early ages.

The conditions that children worked under during the Industrial Revolution were morbid. They had long and inflexible work hours. According to many studies, these hours ranged from 14 hours a day or 70 hours per week. The child laborers worked in environments that were unhealthy and dangerous to their physical well being. Many lost limbs, were killed in gas explosions; crushed under machines; and burned. The workers developed lung cancer from poisonous fumes. When their work or machines were not harming them, their supervisors and overseers harmed them. They were beaten, and when they tried to escape from the factories, they were shackled.

Since then, many interventions have taken place. Laws have been developed, which ameliorated the conditions in these industrial cities--mostly in the west. But since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, much of the world has jumped on the Industrial train and have been practicing the same immoral methods of incorporating child labor in their workforce.