NEARLY half a million schoolchildren are working illegally and more than 100,000 pupils are playing truant to earn money, a survey reveals this week.
It shows that employing children illegally is not a problem confined to Victorian times, with one in four children under the age of 13 now in paid work either during term time or in the summer holidays.
Just over a third of all pupils up to the age of 16 do some kind of paid work and at least 30 per cent of those with term-time jobs work above the legal maximum - two hours daily during the week. One in 10 reported working more than five hours a day.
More than a quarter of the 2,500 English and Welsh 11 to 16-year-olds randomly selected for the TUCMORI survey admitted they were either often or sometimes too tired to do homework or school work because of their jobs.
One in 10 played truant to do paid work, with 6 per cent doing so "often" or "sometimes". Boys were more likely than girls to skip lessons to work - 12 per cent compared to 5 per cent - but children of all ages missed school for jobs in shops, gardens, farms, market stalls and factories.
Children who helped deliver milk were most likely to skip school, with 25 per cent of them admitting having done so. Paper rounds and baby-sitting remain the most popular jobs both in term time and during the summer holidays.
But the survey reveals that children as young a 10 are taking on cleaning jobs with one in five of those with jobs working during term time. A further 7 per cent of 10 and 11-year-olds are in catering and 5 per cent work in markets and street stalls.
Even though it is illegal for children to work in factories, 2 per cent of 12-year-olds and 4 per cent of 13-year-olds work in factories in term-time.
Rates of pay ranged from less than pound;2 an hour to more than pound;5 an hour. Around half of the children with paper rounds or employed as baby-sitters are paid less than pound;3.20 an hour.
In catering and retail jobs, where pupils might work alongside adults, more than half of the children working during term time earn less than pound;3.20. The national minimum adult wage is pound;3.70. The maximum fine for employers breaking the law is pound;1,000 and the TUC is now pressing for increased penalties including the possibility of prison sentences.
DAYS OF HARD LABOUR
Children's Express reporters interviewed young workers: Siobhan Quinn, 12, was paid pound;5 for six hours' work delivering leaflets advertising special offers at Safeway. An adult being paid for the job saw a quick way of off-loading the work while still getting paid. "I wanted the job because I wanted some money but after a couple of weeks I stopped doing it because I didn't think the payment was fair," said Siobhan.
Orlaith Graham-Wood, 12, delivered 300 newspapers and received pound;8. "I quit after three weeks - it was too much, the bags were too heavy ... Now I realise I was being exploited."