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Photographer's Note

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I took this at the infamous “Stung Meanchey garbage mountain" during my 18-hour brief stay at Phnom Penh last year. I regret that I cannot afford a longer stay due to my running-out of budget and energy that cut short my trip.

May the following article give you a better story…




"Bulldozers have buried some kids
under the trash"


*part one




PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — It is one of the saddest sights in this capital, a sprawling 100-acre garbage dump where trash fires burn and plumes of black smoke choke the air with toxic gases.

The workers here are mostly children, hundreds of them, ages 7, 10, 13 and all ages between.

Some of them, like Kong Siehar, 13, work in the dump barefoot and shirtless, combing through mounds of rubbish for tin cans, plastic bags and other recyclable goods.

"I'm looking for something good, something I can sell," the boy said one day as he poked his stick in a small mound, strewn with crushed milk cartons, detergent and condoms. "I know it's difficult work, but I want to help my family. I need to help my family."

Children toil for about 50 cents a day here at the Stung Meanchey Municipal Waste Dump. It is perilous work. The waste is soggy, and huge bulldozers rumble through here, dumping pile upon pile. The children show up at local health clinics with rashes, infections, cuts and bruises.

"This is the closest thing to hell on earth I've ever seen," said David Pred, an aid worker who is trying to assist orphans from the dump site. "I don't understand how people can allow a place like this to exist."

Health officials say the dump site is extremely treacherous. Two years ago, a Japanese study found dangerously high levels of dioxin in the soil and large amounts of heavy metals in the metabolism of children who work in the dump here. Dioxin, which can come from burning chemicals, is a highly toxic chemical that can cause cancer. Cambodia is not alone in allowing children to work as scavengers at dump sites. There are thousands of child laborers at such sites in Vietnam, the Philippines, India, Nigeria, Brazil, Argentina and the Dominican Republic.

The Cambodian government seems indifferent to this dangerous form of largely unsupervised child labor. Although it is illegal in Cambodia for anyone under 18 to do "hazardous work," such laws go unenforced, local aid workers say.

Seng Sagn, 53, the commune chief at Stung Meanchey, said: "I'm worried about the health of the kids and accidents can happen to them any time when they are picking up trash. Trucks have run over some children and bulldozers have buried some kids under the trash."

(by David Barboza)

(To be cont'd)

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Additional Photos by Ngy Thanh (ngythanh) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 471 W: 125 N: 2332] (8458)
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