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Les Misérables: Abandoned Children
Transcript of Les Misérables: Abandoned Children
Abandoned Children in the Eyes of the Law
Abandoned Children, France 1790-1850
The tours d'abandon were small, cradle-like turntables, usually no more than 2 feet wide. They were often found at hospices and orphanages as an anonymous way to drop off an infant. The tours d'abandon were legalized as mandatory in 1811. However, by the 1850s, they were removed to discourage child abandonment.
1809: 67,000 French infants abandoned.
1833: 4,803 infants abandoned in Paris alone. 164, 319 French infants abandoned.
1835: 121,000 French infants abandoned.
Child abandonment peaked in 1835, with 5% of all French babies born being orphaned.
In France, abandoning children on the streets was technically illegal. As an alternative, mothers could sign children over to a hospice at birth. In fact, one fourth of illegitimate babies in France were taken to hospices. There was one hospice in each arrondissement of France. Upon arrival, children received ID necklaces. Until 1831, however, children's names were kept secret in order to protect the mother's family name and to prevent mothers from trying to see their children by applying for jobs as wet nurses.
French foundling hospitals were dirty, cold, and overcrowded. Many infants were never breastfed because of the lack of wet nurses, as well as the fear that most of the babies had syphilis. At least half the infants in hospices died within their first year.
After 1801, all abandoned children in France became wards of the state, as opposed to being under the charge of religious charity groups. The government, focusing on cost and labor efficiency, sent children to foster families in the country with wet nurses. Children were expected to repay the government by working in agriculture or serving in the military.
Although leaving children on the streets was technically illegal, it was common during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Because many children on the streets had no one to depend on, they were forced to work. Many young boys went to work in coal mines until a law was passed in 1813 prohibiting boys under 10 years of age from working there. The Industrial Revolution opened up places in factories for many children. Others took up odd jobs as chimney sweeps, cross cleaners, merchants, and acrobats. However, by the mid-1800s, many lassed were passed limiting child labor.
In pre-Revolutionary France, abandoned children were given to religious charity groups. They were released at 25, usually illiterate, only to become vagabonds, prositutes, and criminals.
Older children, usually picked off the street by the police, who were considered provisionally abandoned were referred to as "en dépot".
Hospices often had artificial feed made with cow and goat milk. The milk was often left out uncovered, inviting germs and bacteria.
Unfortunately, none of the abandoned children in France actually ran around singing the the streets all day. However, many were forced to fend for themselves such as Gavroche in Les Misérables was.