Sunday, November 4, 2007

Lost childhoods

A tin miner in Bolivia, a welder in India, bricklayers in Nepal and workers in a Guatemalan firecracker factory — all hazardous occupations and all performed by children.

The lives of such children were the focus of a presentation during Saturday’s activist summit organized by APHA’s Occupational Health and Safety Section and attended by workplace safety and health advocates. During the presentation, David Parker, MD, MPH, a medical epidemiologist, showed photographs from his book, “Before Their Time: The World of Child Labor.”

According to the book, 320 million children worldwide younger than 16 work, with 150 million employed in hazardous industries. Throughout the book, Parker discusses the detrimental health outcomes of child labor, not only from the hazardous effects of industrial substances, such as lead, on a developing body and mind, but from having to forfeit an education so a child can help support her or his family.

During the question-and-answer period, a participant commented that the reality is that many families would face starvation without their children’s extra income. Poverty, the participant said, is at the heart of child labor. Parker agreed, adding that a strong public health system must also be central in the movement to curb child labor. Public health systems are needed so families, especially mothers, can stay healthy, he said. Increasing access and support for reproductive health services is particularly critical. Women in developing nations face a disproportionately high maternal mortality burden, and many fathers don’t care for their children if the mother dies, leaving many kids to seek dangerous work to survive, Parker said.

Unfortunately, as social support systems are stressed more and more under the weight of preventable disease and death, child labor numbers will continue to rise, Parker noted. Economic development, he said, won’t solve the child labor problem on its own — public health must be part of the solution.

Visit Parker’s Web site for more information and to view photos from his book.

— K.K.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

These photos are heartbreaking. Bravo to the author for highlighting this issue!