Agriculture and the Welfare State

Work by Abandoned Children under the Third Republic
By Ivan Jablonka

Agrarisme et État-providence. Le travail des enfants abandonnés sous la Troisième République.

Dickens’s and Hugo’s novels set a link between the industrial revolution and child abandonment, but the overwhelming majority of children fostered by the French Assistance publique, especially those who were born in Paris, were not raised in urban areas but lived and worked in the countryside. This policy, which presumes the moral superiority of farmers, was intended to remove urban vagrants and to set them in rural areas. Due to a growing lack of agricultural workers, hiring Assistance publique children became an easy solution. To a certain extent, foster children benefited from this forced situation. They earned money, they were able to buy what they wanted and they generally could choose their own boss, whereas legitimate children were often obliged to work for free in their father’s farm. However, waifs and strays still suffered social injustice under the Assistance publique who not only did not try to improve their living conditions or increase their wages, but also did not try to prevent girls from being assaulted. In the end, rural fosterage did not have a profound effect on the rural exodus, but it did strongly transform the local demographic and economic situation and perpetuated an insufficiently competitive and poorly mechanized agriculture.


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