Child labour laws are designed to protect children from exploitation and to regulate things like hours, conditions and the age at which children can work. English labour laws are some of the oldest around, according to the Economic History Association. Despite this, UNICEF says the U.K. is "subject to a confusing patchwork of regional directives, national laws and local bylaws on child employment."
Although children from poor families in England had worked for centuries, it was not until the Industrial Revolution that child labour came to be seen as a social problem, according to Lake Forest College economics professor Carolyn Tuttle. The three most important laws introduced, says Tuttle, were the Cotton Factories Regulation Act of 1819 (which set the minimum working age at 9 and maximum working hours at 12), the Regulation of Child Labor Law of 1833 (which established paid inspectors to enforce the laws) and the Ten Hours Bill of 1847 (which limited working hours to 10 for children and women).
European Union Rules
Countries in the European Union, including England, were required by a 1994 Council Directive on the Protection of Young People at Work to "ensure ... that the minimum working or employment age is not lower than the minimum age at which compulsory full-time schooling as imposed by national law ends or 15 years in any event," according to UNICEF. In England, compulsory full-time schooling can end at 15 or 16, depending on the child's birth date.
The directive also requires member states to make sure that young people are protected against economic exploitation and any work likely to be harmful, but excludes categories of employment such as domestic service in a private household and work regarded as "not being harmful, damaging or dangerous to young people in a family undertaking."
National Laws on Minimum Age
In England and Wales, the relevant basic legislation is the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, amended by the Children and Young Persons Act 1963 and the Children Act 1972, according to UNICEF. The law states that children may not work before the age of 13. This differs from the EU directive.
Laws on Hours and Conditions
The law allows children to work for a maximum of two hours on schooldays, according to UNICEF. Children under 15 can work a maximum of five hours on Saturdays and weekdays during school vacations. Children 15 or over can work up to eight hours on those days. They are not allowed to work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m., for more than one hour before school or during school hours. Also, they are not allowed to work for more than four hours without a break of at least one hour.
An English bylaw is a locally applicable law. Local bylaws can relax the national rules for the employment of children in some respects and add to them in others, according to UNICEF.
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