Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER II.: THE REGULATION OF CHILD LABOUR. - The Tyranny of Socialism
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CHAPTER II.: THE REGULATION OF CHILD LABOUR. - Yves Guyot, The Tyranny of Socialism 
The Tyranny of Socialism, ed. J.H. Levy (London: Swan Sonnenschein and Co., 1894).
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THE REGULATION OF CHILD LABOUR.
Minors and Incapables — Abuse of Protection — Application of the Law to Agricultural Labour—Why not?—Ten, Eleven, and Twelve Hours—Limitation of Adult Labour by the Limitation of Child Labour—Abolition of Apprentices—Compulsory Vagabondage—Forced Idleness—The Child at the Workshop Door—Consequences of the Abuse of Protection.
Just as we admit that the civil code should protect minors and incapables, we allow that the law should protect children against such abuses as may be committed against them. We are of opinion that, up to now, the police, the magistrates, and public opinion, have been far too indifferent regarding the miserable little creatures whose beggary is a source of speculation to scamps, and whose lives are a continual torture. When, in our schools and colleges, we see children overworked under the pretext that it is for their good, we realise that there are certain parents who, unmoved by other motives, look upon a child as a slave provided by nature; and there are employers who lend themselves to this idea of the child’s mission all the more readily as they find their own profit in it. That the law shall oppose itself to this trade is a necessity which we loudly proclaim; but it is important that the law shall not itself trespass, and under the pretext of protecting the children, persecute parents and employers.
In 1874 a law was passed for the protection of children and girls under age in factories; but it has remained almost a dead letter. This is a proof that to pass a law is not in itself sufficient to accomplish anything. When we have said, “There will be inspectors,” we imagine that inspectors will spring up from the ground; that they will all be perfect officers, calm, cool, and, as a matter of course, above all bribery. But these inspectors have to be paid and set in motion.
The law of 2nd November, 1892, which has supplanted the law of 1874, limits the labour of children between the ages of thirteen and sixteen years, to ten hours; but are they to be thus restrained during the gathering of the roses and jasamine in the south? The law does not apply to agricultural labour; but is not agriculture an industry just like any other? Is it not possible to over-drive children at it? If agriculture has not been included, is it not because the Deputies, mostly elected by rural populations, have been afraid of provoking a discontent at home which they have not feared from the manufacturing populations, because, with their appetites depraved by regulations, many workmen demand measures of this kind without thoroughly understanding their nature; and the employers actually seem to be quantities which it is unnecessary to take into account?
According to this law, children under sixteen years of age cannot be employed for more than ten hours a day, young workers of either sex from sixteen to eighteen years of age, not more than sixty hours per week; girls over eighteen and women, not more than eleven hours per day. The women may therefore remain in the factory after the young girls and children have left. And what will these do outside? Would it not be better for them to be near their mothers or their fathers? If the father works twelve hours he does not come out until two hours after his children, one hour after his wife. Instead of going away together, each leaves at his own time. Will morality and the family benefit by this?
Furthermore, in certain trades the assistance of children is indispensable. When the child has once left, the father and mother have no alternative but to leave too. The advocates of the limitation of working hours are triumphant at having obtained these results, but they have given rise to crises, strikes, and difficulties, and they have not added to the well-being of the household, nor to the prosperity of trade.
The minute protection vouchsafed to children may have the most disastrous effects upon them. The confectioners and cooks of Paris have 3000 apprentices, of whom many are orphans, or boys whose families live in the provinces. The law compels their masters to give them a day’s holiday, and the masters will not accept the responsibility of looking after them on this holiday, which thus means enforced vagabondage for these little boys.
The law gives rise to absurd results of the following nature:—The head of the stereotyping department of a journal of large circulation in Paris had his son with him. The law interfered, and he had to send his son away. If, however, instead of working in large printing works he had worked at home, would he have been forbidden to have his son as his assistant, and to teach him a trade? The young man was very strong and active. The law condemned him to idleness. It is this thrusting forth of the child or of the girl under age, of which the Legislature did not dream. The day after the promulgation of the new law, the firm of Lebaudy dismissed forty-four sugar-breakers, because they were too young. Several Deputies—Messieurs Millerand, Baudin and Dumay announced that they would challenge the action in the Chamber; but they did not dare to support the argument that an employer must retain children and girls under age against his own wish. Was the moral and material condition of these young girls improved? In all trades where the presence of children is not indispensable, many employers now dispense with them; but then where can they serve their apprenticeship? They will live at their parent’s expense, and represent a diminution of their income. Is this the premium that certain State-interventionists have promised for the development of the population?
Protection is converted into oppression. On the strength of having wished to guard child labour, we have run the risk of depriving the child of work, altogether a far more serious thing than the abuses which we have wished to prevent. Let us take care lest one day we find this child, the object of our solicitude, in such a condition that we are compelled to send him to a House of Correction, where he will lead a harder life than in any factory, and whence he will issue forth branded, morally and intellectually depressed, unfit to earn his own living; a wretched being fit only for prison and bound to relapse!