Anlong Pi is a landfill just 30 kilometers from Siem Reap, the main tourist city of Cambodia. Each day tons of organic and inorganic waste arrive via large trucks that unload mountains of toxic compounds. The workers in the landfill collect recyclable materials like glass, paper and metal that may earn them as little as $1 a day. And when those trucks have finished their work, they will be succeeded by a procession of buses carrying tourists from different parts of the world who will stop, gaze, and perhaps take a photo or two before r-boarding and continuing on to their next site on the itinerary.
The landfill has become a voyeuristic tourist stop, complete with guided tours and snapping photographs of its workers. In 2014, photojournalist David Rengel, who was already in Cambodia to document several stories that included the treatment of tuberculosis by Doctors Without Borders and the Cham Muslim minority in Cambodia, decided to further explore the trend of tourism that he feels exploits child labor in his series “Dirty Tourism.”
“To make the story on child labor I traveled to Siem Reap where my colleague and friend Omar Havana, a freelance photographer in Getty Images, had been developing a series for several years and was living in Cambodia,” Rengel tells In Sight. “When I went to the landfill my initial work was focused on child labor in dump sites. But while I was doing my reporting I began to see tourists arriving, sometimes in buses and other times in tuk-tuks or Cambodian taxis. I felt it was awful, and in this moment I pointed my perspective and my reporting towards the practice of tourism as the cause of certain forms of work, and even child labor. I asked the people who lived and worked in the dump if these were isolated cases or if these trips were frequent, and they told me that tourists arrive at the landfill every day.”
Hundreds of children and adults work in the Anlong Pi landfill. They endure long hours of picking out recyclable material under the hot sun, smelling the stench of tons of the garbage delivered several times a day. Largely for economic reasons, children are forced to work at the landfill by their parents. Some study in the mornings, and in the afternoons they will work at the landfill. Lia Neang Syer, 14, (pictured below) has been working at the garbage dump since she was 10. She discontinued her studies because she was not able to pay for books and extra lessons. And though she does not enjoy working at the dump, her parents make her do it in order to make additional money. Her mother also works at the dump.
Some tour guide companies have included a visit to a neighboring landfill–Stung Meanchey Garbage Dump–as an attraction on their itinerary that offers to “show you how many children spend their days” and promises to offer a “a shocking and humbling experience.”
On Nov. 20, 1959, the United Nations adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Paragraph 9 specifies that a child must be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation. That includes not allowing the child to engage in any occupation or employment, which would prejudice his health, education or interfere with his physical, mental or moral development. Far from being protected by these rights, many children work part-time or up to 10 hours a day at the garbage dump, rummaging through the trash to help their families. NGOs like Friends International Child Safe Network encourage travelers to avoid tour guides that offer trips to dump sites, landfills, and orphanages on its itinerary through a campaign that states “Children are not tourist attractions.”