How did child labor end

Child labor in Austria: Prohibited and yet it still exists

On June 11, 1842, child labor was for the first time placed under a (patchy) ban. To this day, children (mostly) work legally in the theater, film or household - but the "young carers" could be problematic.

In the mine, as carpet weavers, in workshops, in the field: around the world, around 168 million children aged five to 17 are forced to work “to keep themselves and their families alive”. That is “more than all the children of Europe added together”, as the report “Robbery Childhood” recently published by the children's rights organization “Save the Children” shows. Most of those affected work in sub-Saharan Africa. In Cameroon it is 47 percent, in Somalia 49 percent and in Mali as much as 56 percent. Austria does not appear in the 30-page report. "In this country there is no serious problem with child labor," emphasizes Franz Marhold, director of the Institute for Austrian and European Labor Law and Social Law at the Vienna University of Economics and Business. This is owed on the one hand to the currently applicable child and youth employment law, on the other hand to the Working Hours Act. But there is a but.

Wolfgang Mazal from the Institute for Labor and Social Law at the University of Vienna objects that these laws and their implementation are incomplete, which means that child labor is permitted in certain cases. As an example, he cites the theater sector, where children can be found again and again, such as the three boys in the opera “The Magic Flute”. “The legislator has decided on exceptions for this.” There are also corresponding exceptions for the film and television sectors - but in some cases there are also violations of the same.

The passage according to which child labor “does not include the employment of children for the sole purpose of teaching or upbringing and the employment of one's own children with low-level services of short duration in the household” is also overused at times. "Waiting in the family inn, playing on the quetch as a tourist attraction or cleaning in the parents' guesthouse - that goes beyond the permitted work with children and young people," warns Mazal, referring to an older study by the Catholic youth group. In the care sector, "the young carers - that is, children and young people who look after their family members around the clock - represent a form of problematic child labor," adds the labor lawyer. However, the data situation is still very vague here.

The historian Josef Ehmer from the Vienna Institute for Economic and Social History sees young carers as “a major social problem, but one that lies on a different level than the ban on child labor”. Because, while the prohibition is primarily directed against the gainful employment of children for non-family members, “young carers embody a particularly stressful form of family and household work”. It is therefore a question of relieving or supporting family caregivers of all ages. Which, according to Ehmer, “of course has to be much more comprehensive and radical in the case of children than for adults”.

Social Motives? Of course not.

But why are the numerous provisions necessary at all? Who came up with the idea of ​​degrading children to workers? If you go back the historical paths on legal traces, you come across Joseph II, who in 1786 legally allowed child labor in factories. But the work made the children sickly. Therefore, 175 years ago, the “Court Chancellery Decree of June 11, 1842” was issued, which prohibited the work of children. Specifically, it determined the "completed 12th year of life" as the age "from which children of both sexes may be taken to regular work". Children “who have completed the ninth year” are also allowed to work, provided they “have taken at least three years of schooling, if the children are adequately continued religious and schooling for as long as they are of school age, and if permission is given for their use the local authority (...) was overtaken ”. Young people up to the age of 16 should work a maximum of twelve hours. Night work was forbidden to children and young people.

"One could assume so, but there were no social motives behind the decree," emphasizes Marhold. The fact was: “The emperor needed healthy soldiers and therefore healthy children.” But the decree also proves something, according to the legal scholar, namely, “that child labor was not a result of industrialization”. Even the trade regulations of 1859, which forbade hard work for children under nine years of age, had nothing to do with industry and machinery. It was not until the second amendment to the trade regulation in 1885 that it was affected. This included a ban on child labor in factories, and young people up to the age of 16 were no longer allowed to do heavy labor. "It is noticeable that agriculture was left out," says Marhold. Specifically: The holiday regulation was adapted to the harvest times.

From now on things went faster with the legal anchoring of realities of life: With the law on child labor of 1918, the control of child activities by labor inspectors was improved and work cards were introduced - children had to be legitimized as workers. In addition, there was the eight-hour day law, which ushered in the 44-hour week and stipulated the end of weekly working hours on Saturday at 12 noon. A night work ban between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. and an eleven-hour rest period were fixed for young people, and they were also granted 14 days' annual vacation. In the 1920s, the international stage shaped the - figuratively speaking - work steps in Austrian case law. A number of ILO agreements (the abbreviation for the International Labor Organization, now an arm of the UN) had to be ratified, including regulations on the minimum age of children for commercial work, in agriculture and an agreement on commercial night work. "With the ratifications, a law on the work of children and young people came into being in 1935," summarizes Marhold. The most important points: The work of the children had to be registered with the community; not every activity was allowed to be carried out. Excluded were the traveling, catering and pub trade as well as work that affects morality.

Up to 54 hours of child labor per week

From January 1, 1939, during the Nazi regime, the “Child Labor Law” finally came into force in Austria. It increased the weekly working time to 48 hours - if necessary it could be extended to 54 hours. In return, the duration of the vacation was shortened. Reason for the tightening: The children and adolescents were not only increasingly employed in agriculture, but also in production for the war machinery. “And ultimately on the battlefield”, Marhold recalls the “Volkssturm of 1945, in which twelve and thirteen year olds were also involved”. (According to the Reichsgesetzblatt 1944, all “men who were capable of holding weapons between the ages of 16 and 60” were called upon to defend the “homeland” of the German Reich.)

After the end of the Second World War, a new child and youth employment law was not long in coming. The key points of the 1948 version were the prohibition of night work and overtime work. In 1969 it was supplemented with preventive medical check-ups for children (meaning under twelve-year-olds) and young people. "Over the years, youth trust councils were anchored in the companies, youth representatives and responsibility for young people was shifted to the Chamber of Labor," says Marhold. His conclusion: "Austria's children and young people are well protected."

Are you supposed to go to work?

Outside the country's borders, however, this finding cannot be shared everywhere - sometimes this is not even wanted in highly developed western societies. In 1984 the provocative title of the book by Norwegian educators Per Linge and Hans Petter Wille was “Child labor is good”. With a view to the “remote” schools and kindergartens in their country, the two demanded: “Reintroduce child labor.” They wanted to draw attention to the fact that the work of children could also enrich their lives in the sense of an upbringing and maturing process.

Bolivia, on the other hand, issued a new directive for children and young people (Law No. 548, Section VI) with effect from July 17, 2014. The Código del Niño, Niña y Adolescente officially allows child labor from the age of ten as an exception. At the time, it was said that one should accept the “necessary evil” in order to give children, who often live in extreme poverty, an opportunity to get out of it. And that in turn also serves the economy: estimates assume that the work of children makes up a tenth of Bolivia's economic output. However, as international organizations, including Unicef, counter, children are not only stolen from their childhood, exploitation is also on the agenda.

Mazal describes similar experiences: "When a sporting goods manufacturer once banned the sewing of its products in India, the now unemployed children slipped into boredom, which resulted in violence, theft and drug consumption." That does not mean that children - to put it bluntly - Mine should be sent, but it does mean "that we are obliged to stand up for our values, but are not entitled to impose our systems on others - which, moreover, we have only been living for a short time". After all, according to the expert, the "Swabian children" were at work in Tyrol and Vorarlberg in the 19th century (they were sent to Germany to do lighter work there and not to be a burden to their parents at home over the summer as eaters) that the girls sewed their own trousseau to improve their chances on the marriage market. “Many people only know something like this from stories,” says Mazal, “from today's understanding it was prohibited child labor, as there was a compulsion to work and no voluntariness. At that time, of course, the customs and laws were different. "

>>> Child and Youth Employment Act

>>> Working Hours Act

>>> Report from "Save the Children"