Thursday, 22 May 2014

Poverty, Child Prostitution and The Children's Society

Much of the classical tale of charity is based upon the child saved from the extremes of poverty who goes on to have a prosperous, respectable life. Many of the case files in The Children's Society archives describe in detail the families and poverty in which these children were living before they went to the Society. Case File A described concern that the child should never "return to the miserable court and life of starvation" and that all of the children in the family were "ill-kempt half fed and very dirty". The majority of the Society's cases were born into poverty related either to unemployment, alcoholism, disease or death, and the work of charities such as the Society helped usher in the sea change of prosperity in these children's lives. 

Case Files B and C are a severe example of the situation many of the children had been living in. These Case Files are for two young sisters, under the age of 10, and describe them as being "found residing in a house for the purpose of prostitution". Whilst shocking in our time these two girls were part of the "veritable slave trade" ( of child prostitution in Victorian England. Attitudes to sex and prostitution at the time are mirrored by the fact that the age of consent was only raised from 12 to 13 in 1875, and finally to 16 in 1885. The extensive sex trade in Victorian England was a daily reality for many, especially city dwellers, and these changes in law doubtless helped to change the situation.

To find out more about the Unexplored Riches in Medical History project see the website:

Or the project blog:

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