Doctor’s photos highlight labor

WASHINGTON (AP) — David Parker first started looking into child labor as a research project at the Minnesota Health Department. But it soon became his passion.
The epidemiologist took a camera and, using his own money and his physician’s eye, set out to document child-labor conditions around the world. Some of the arresting black-and-white photographs Parker produced went on display this week on Capitol Hill.
The exhibit includes photographs of children as young as 6 lugging bricks in Nepal, scavenging in an immense Indonesian garbage dump and working with metal in India.
“I hope it will being awareness that the issue of child labor is not only an enormous issue, but it goes well beyond questions that are simply related to the carpet industry or to soccer balls or to stainless steel surgical instruments,” Parker said on Monday.
Those are some of the items that are best known to Americans for being produced by Third World child labor. Parker’s work documents the lesser-known forms of child labor.
A photograph titled “Brickworker” shows a boy, about 10 years old, balancing 10 bricks on his head; a 40-pound load.
A second picture is of three barefoot girls, no more than 6 or 7 years old, each carrying at least a half-dozen bricks on their backs. To the doctor behind the lens, the children are risking certain injury: “If you have a brick and it falls four feet … it’s going to shatter your foot. There’s no way they’re not hurt.”
Nearby is a photograph of the dump in Jakarta, Indonesia, where enough trash to cover eight football fields is deposited each day to cook in the tropical heat. The dump teems with children wearing large baskets on their backs to collect stray pieces of wood, paper and plastic. They take bits of food, too. Every one of the children must have parasitic diseases, Parker said.
How does a Minnesota doctor react to these scenes?
“Sometimes it’s pain. Sometimes it’s disgust. Sometimes it’s just being upset. Sometimes it’s none of the above. Not that I get immune to it. It’s what I’m doing … about a problem,” said Parker. His research at the Minnesota Health Department began when the agency wanted to verify some statistics on work-related injuries.
President Clinton proposed a voluntary code of conduct on Monday for U.S. companies. The code is intended to improve working conditions in the apparel industry.
Such codes would do nothing directly to aid the children in Parker’s photographs — their products aren’t intended for export — but lawmakers say the publicity could pressure Third World governments to curtail all forms of child labor.
“It does have a spillover effect,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.
Parker’s photographs are on display in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building, across Constitution Avenue from the Capitol.
A book of his photographs, titled “Stolen Dreams,” will be published this summer.