Published: Sunday 15 November 1998

Garbage dumps are the only source of livelihood for hundreds of poor children living in Phnom Penh. Scores of children can be seen atop heaps of foul-smelling wastes, competing with the municipal bulldozer to collect cans, glass, plastic and paper, which they sell for a living. Injuries and infections are common hazards that ail these children every day. Also, they are frequently chased by the police and harassed by the middlemen, who sell the waste collected by the children to the recycling factories at higher prices.

Children aged between five and 14 account for nearly 30 per cent of Cambodia's population. Over 10 per cent of them are believed to be working as child labourers under pathetic conditions. And over the last five years, their ranks have swelled from 7,000 to 25,000, says Leonard de Vos. a United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) official.

Children earning their livelihood by picking wastes in developing countries are a subject of many programmes being run by non-governmental organisations (NGOS). Community Sanitation and Recycling Organisation (CSARO) is one such NGO trying help them by protecting their rights and educating them about the hazards. "We have started a centre where children and women can drop in to rest, obtain health services and advice about getting the best prices for their waste," said Heng Yon Kora of CSARO.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.