Children in Early Modern England and Contemporary Romania

Autor: prof. Bogdan Maria-Georgiana

Sursă imagine: https://drbp.hypotheses.org/837

Families were the primary place where children could learn how to socialize and how to behave by looking at the examples offered within the household. The expectation was quite simple: to adapt to these models and to follow them in their future adult lives. The first lesson that children were taught was to revere and obey their parents. Christian parents raised their children on the principle that they should both fear and love God and parents could punish children to make sure that they did so. Children were taught that God punishes sins, they were given examples of what is considered sinful or not and observed to make sure they would not commit mistakes. As a consequence, even the servants in a house would be chosen according to the way they were brought up and if they were raised according to the same principles and values to make sure they would have the same influence as the rest of the family.

As Stephanie Tarbin observes, citing Henrich Bullinger’s The Christen State of Matrymonie ( translated by Miles Coverdale 1541), girls were to be brought up in ” all feare and drede” and be corrected with harsh punishments ( Tarbin 106), which meant that the boys were taught with love while girls not.

Women in general were perceived as being weaker and easier attracted by temptation so their education started from a very early age by cultivating and instilling a sense of shame. This is why the education of daughters would merely belong to mothers while the education of sons would belong to fathers.

In early modern England, parents were interested in investing in their children not only when they were very little but even later after they left house and got married. In general, the elder son was privileged, while the father also offered the other children shared amounts of money, food and clothing, medicine and schooling. Children grow up and they need to follow a specific path and so a lot of them leave their homes and go to schools, apprenticeships, domestic and agricultural service. Some may say this is not very good and parents should not let their children go away from home at a very early age, but others see it as a method through which early modern families tried to help and protect the children. There were times of economic uncertainty and a lot of people were unemployed. Children would become part of a circle in which they played the role of maintaining a business or a household, in case of parents’ death and also offered families the necessary support when needed.

Unfortunately, there were many situations of abused children, who refused to tell their parents the truth as they were too afraid to disappoint them and they considered themselves guilty of having broken the rules they had been taught since they were little. In some families, children would be first beaten and punished rather than listened to and helped. Those attacking children knew how to threaten them and keep them silent. For example, as Catrina Honeyman documented in Childhood and Child Labour in Industrial England:

” The interdisciplinary nature of the understanding of children’s social, economic and cultural position both in the past and in more recent times has served to generate valuable new conceptualizations. Among the most important of these are: the child as a social and historical construct ( which includes a gender dimension); the complexity and diversity of childhood experiences; and the analysis of children as social and economic actors. ” ( Honeyman 2-3)

The situation of children, and especially girls, in early modern times was more difficult than it is today because children had to work from an early age, they were expected to behave, and it was indecorous for a child to behave like an adult.

When children were away to learn a job, parents would make sure that the master took proper care of them and taught them the job well. Other parents would provide help whenever it was necessary, making sure their children were safe and sound. If a child was sick or out of work, he or she was free to come home and the family would take her in without any problems. So, the interest of parents towards their children evolved from generation to generation, adults learning to pay more attention to their children.

Compared to early modern England, contemporary Romania presents some similarity regarding the way in which parents choose to take care of their children and, at the same time, in the manner in which children choose to repay their parents later in life, giving them support in their old age. Support is again represented not only by money, but also by small gifts, treats, holidays, to make their life more beautiful. Before reaching this stage, there are other important factors regarding the status of children in Romania which needs to be looked into.

Children in nowadays’ Romania enjoy the privilege of being protected by the Constitution of the country and there are various institutions and associations which make sure their rights are not infringed. The National Authority for Children Protection and Adoption is subordinated to the Ministry of Work and Family, Social and Old-Aged Protection and its primary mission is to monitor the way in which children’s rights are respected. The National Authority is responsible for laws and implementation of projects regarding children’s welfare and they can decide if a child is to be separated from his/her family or not, by sending people to investigate and report the situation. There are numerous cases of abuse, just as in early modern England, in which children tend to hide the truth about what had been done to them for fear their families might get angry or because they are too young to understand how bad the abuse is.

Another aspect stipulated by the Constitution of Romania refers to the fact that children cannot be asked to perform tasks which may lead to their injury or which may end in loosing their lives. Just as well, children under the age of 15 are not allowed to have a job; the situation becomes possible once they are 16 and their parents sign an acceptance declaration. Here, we can see another similar aspect between the two analysed countries and epochs; in both situations, parents give their consent and they make sure their children are properly trained, paid and respected. Likewise, parents in contemporary Romania can choose to take legal action if any of the stipulations in the working agreement is not fully met.

Children have the right to education and this is entirely supported by the Romanian system, as no one is asked to remain at home because they are too poor or they belong to a different nationality. The system requires for all children to graduate at least 10 grades; it makes sure that the children belonging to ethnic minority groups can study and can be evaluated in their mother tongue, too. Also, poor children are encouraged to attend schools by being given sums of money necessary for stationery and books, thus being encouraged to come to school and attend classes, to sit exams and to advance in their preparation.

TO BE CONTINUED

WORKS CITED

Honeyman, Katrina and Nigel Goose. ” Introduction.” Childhood and Child Labour in Industrial England: Diversity and Agency. 1750-1914. Edited by Nigel and Katrina Honeyman. New York: Routeledge, 2013, pp.1-22.

Tarbin, Stephanie. ” Raising Girls and Boys: Fear, Awe, and Dread in the Early Modern Household. ” Authority, Gender and Emotions in Late Medieval and Early Modern England. Edited by Susan Broomhall. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, pp. 106-130.

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