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strengthen the age restriction of the child-labor law very effectively. Of what use is it for a parent to swear falsely that a lad is fourteen years of age when he is eleven, if he must continue in school until he has finished the work of the first five years, or the first eight years? The temptation to perjury on the part of parents is thus reduced, to say nothing of the borrowing of passports and other records.
New York state, however, reinforces the age requirement of the child-labor law still further by having every child examined by a physician of the local board of health, who signs and files in the office of the board a statement that the child is, in his opinion, of the normal stature of a child of fourteen years, and is in good health. This is an excellent safeguard for the undersized, anemic children who are clever and faithful enough to finish the work of the first five years of the curriculum in five or in six years, and whose greedy parents would gladly turn the achievement to account, not by giving the child the due reward of its faithfulness in the shape of more opportunity for school life, but by crowding it into a sweatshop or the messenger service.
While two states, Colorado and New York, thus excel Illinois in requiring a stipulated amount of school work of the children before letting them leave school, twenty states excel Illinois in the length of the term of required school attendance. Twelve states require the children to attend school to the age of sixteen years (unless the children are at work under restrictions which, in several states, are rigidly guarded). These twelve states are Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Besides these, eight other states require children to attend school to the age of fifteen years. These are Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. It is an interesting item that of these twenty states, which require more years of school attendance than does Illinois, eleven are included in the list of fourteen states which in 1900 had reduced their child illiteracy more nearly to zero than Illinois had succeeded in doing. Thus, although a larger percentage of the children were able to read and write at
the age of fourteen years than in Illinois, these states still kept them longer in school.
When thus tested by the two available objective tests — the decennial census and the departure of the children from school, considered in connection with the age at which they are permitted to go and the acquirement required at the time of leaving Illinois appears not to have the best laws in the country for the protection of the children. There are, however, some further comparisons which can profitably be made.
A law which far excels any in force at the present time in its effective defense of the interests of childhood is the unique statute of Colorado which defines the delinquencies with which a child under the age of sixteen years may be charged, and holds the parent, guardian, or other adult person responsible who contributes to the delinquency of a child.
Excellent as is the truancy law of Illinois, it is limited in its operation to the seasons when the schools are in session. But the delinquencies of children know no such limitations. Boys commit petty offenses out of school hours, on Saturdays, Sundays, and during vacation. Moreover, the compulsory-education law of Illinois ceases to take effect upon a child when he reaches the fourteenth birthday, unless, being illiterate, he may be required to attend a night school until he has either learned to read and write, or reaches the age of sixteen years. If a boy in Chicago buys cigarettes wherewith to stupefy himself and render his school attendance useless, the truancy law is of little value to him. If he spends the hours after school in picking coal from a railroad track, at the risk of his life, it is not the truancy law which meets his case. What such boys need is the protection of a law which would bring into court the mother and the cigarette dealer, in the case of the former; and the railway officials who fail to police their tracks, together with the family who profit by the child's thefts, in the case of the latter.
The law of Colorado holds responsible, for all the delinquencies of all the children until they reach the age of sixteen years, all those adult persons who contribute to such delinquencies. If a boy fetches beer for the family, the man who sells him the beer and the family who send him to fetch it are alike held responsible. If a boy carries telegrams to a disreputable house, the operator who sends him is liable to a fine or to jail for a year. The boy who steals rides on a coal train involves the conductor in his delinquency; and the junk dealers find it unprofitable to purchase junk from children whose detection involves a year in jail for the adult participant in their offenses.
The child in Colorado thus has the fullest benefit of a rigid compulsory-education law, and also of this wide-embracing enforcement of adult responsibility. Colorado goes beyond the enforcement of parental responsibility, and includes with it adult responsibility. Whoever contributes to the delinquency of a child is responsible before the law of Colorado.
Mr. Bodine makes the statement that " every juvenile corrective institution in Chicago is overstuffed with boys who are there largely because their parents have not taken enough interest in their education.” This statement, being unquestionably true, affords a powerful argument for the prompt adoption in Illinois of the Colorado juvenile delinquency law, for the purpose of reinforcing the compulsory-education law through all those periods to which, by its very nature, it cannot apply; namely, holidays and the two years between the fourteenth and the sixteenth birthdays. When all the juvenile institutions of Chicago are overcrowded, it would be folly to try to get on with one of two excellent laws for reducing the number of delinquent children, when both laws can easily be had.
Mr. Bodine makes the prophecy: “We shall always have corrective institutions, but the punishment of parents will keep them from being overcrowded.” The people of Colorado say in effect: “If we must have corrective institutions, let us keep the children out of them as far as possible, and fine and imprison adults instead.” And there appears to be a certain fine justice in sup porting the efforts of parents to bring their children up righteously, by punishing those persons who defeat these efforts. Why should the whole burden of punishment fall upon fathers and mothers, while offenders outside the family who tempt the children go free?
Underlying the effective legislation of Colorado for the protection of the children is the fact that the voting constituency in that enlightened state has, for eleven years, included all the mothers, the teachers, and all the other interested women in the community. It is impossible to overstate the value to the children of this vast body of people in the electorate who are by nature, by training, and by the usages of our national life chiefly occupied with the bringing up of children and youth. It is a nobler form of the enforcement of the responsibility of all the adults for all the children in the community. Illinois has not, and cannot have, the best laws for the protection of the children until all the mothers, teachers, and other women vote, and thus completely share the responsibility, as they have long done in Colorado. In order to have the best laws in the country for the protection of the children, Illinois would need to possess, in addition to its own truancy law, and that wider measure of Colorado for enforcing the responsibility of adults who contribute to the delinquency of children, the complete enfranchisement of the women.
The statutes of Illinois possess several points of unquestioned excellence, none of which are, however, peculiar to themselves. One of the best requirements is that children shall not work after 7 o'clock at night. This is excelled by the Michigan statute which prohibits the employment of children after 6 P. M. Another excellent point is the legal limit of eight hours imposed upon the working day of children under the age of sixteen years. This provision, however, is found in the laws of Colorado, Arizona, Montana, and Utah, as well as in those of Illinois. An admirable provision in the laws of Illinois is that which prohibits the employment of children in occupations dangerous to the health. This also is common to the laws of Massachusetts, Ohio, Colorado, and several other states.
Among the most important laws for the protection of children are those which deal with child-labor. No form of child-labor is more injurious than the street occupations. In five years of residence in New York city the writer has not seen one girl under the age of sixteen years engaged in selling papers, or any other articles, upon the streets, or in begging. Can as much be said for Chicago?
This absence of girls from the street trades is due to the very rigid provision in the penal code holding parents and guardians responsible for girls, and guilty of cruelty when they are permitted thus to work under the age of sixteen years. Under the statute of 1903, newsboys under the age of fourteen years are required to wear badges loaned to them by the board of education of New York city. They must not work under the age of ten years, or during school hours, or after 10 o'clock at night. They must be able to read and write. They receive their badges (gratis) in connection with licenses, for which the parents must apply with the children, and for the children's compliance with which the adults are held responsible. A similar law of Massachusetts is in force in Boston. Have the laws of Illinois any such provisions?
There is no good measure for the protection of children in the laws of Illinois which cannot be found in the laws of other states also. But there are several excellent provisions missing from the Illinois laws which could be embodied in them with immense advantage to the children of Illinois.
To recapitulate briefly: It appears that the laws of Illinois for the protection of children are excelled by those of twenty states, which require their children to attend school to the age of fifteen or sixteen years, while Illinois permits all who can read and write to leave school at the age of fourteen years, merely demanding attendance at night school of those between fourteen and sixteen years who have not yet learned to read and write. They are excelled by those of two states (Colorado and New York) which require pupils both to reach the age of fourteen years and also to complete a certain amount of school work before leaving school. They are excelled by those of New York in numerous respects, among which one is the requirement that children before beginning work shall be declared by a physician of the local board of health to be of normal stature of a child of fourteen years and in good health; and another is that requirement, which has been on the statute books of New York since 1893, that children, before beginning work, be able to read and write.