A Japanese tourist poses for his fellow hikers with children that work in the Anlong Pi dump site near Siem Reap, Cambodia. The tourists belong to a group of medical students who are on vacation and have come to Anlog Pi as part of their itinerary, 2014. (David Rengel) Viku Tupse, 9, places a broken Mickey Mouse face on his head because he understands the tourists will like it. Tupse does not understand why tourists visit the garbage dump where he works, but he likes it when they give him candy. Siem Reap, Cambodia. (David Rengel)
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.”
In recent years the garbage generated in Siem Reap has doubled and the landfill’s capacity has been exceeded. GAEA, the company in charge of the landfill, is enabling new areas for distributing the waste. (David Rengel) A truckload of organic and inorganic waste reaches the dustbin of Anlong Pi in Siem Reap. Residents of the landfill spend more than 10 hours a day rummaging through tons of waste in search of recyclable materials to sell and to earn some money, 2014. (David Rengel) Lia Neang Syer, 14, 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 in order to make additional money. Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2014. (David Rengel)
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.”
A group of Japanese tourists arrive with their guide at the Anlong Pi garbage dump. Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2014. (David Rengel) Sau Srey Neang, 11. This is her first year working in the landfill, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2014. (David Rengel) The inhabitants of landfills are forced to burn some of the waste they receive. Many become sick due to a continuous intake of toxic gases. Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2014. (David Rengel) A Japanese tourist covers her mouth with her hands because of the strong smell of toxic waste and decaying food generated from the landfill. Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2014. (David Rengel) A group of tourists disturb children who work in the garbage dump of Anlong Pi and who were resting before the tourists arrived. Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2014. (David Rengel) While Sueun Chany, 12, carries large bags of trash, from side to side at the garbage dump, A tourist wait to take pictures of children alongside their peers who have arrived in a tuk-tuk to the garbage dump. Foreign tourist visit as part of their holidays the garbage dump of Anlong Pi. A tourist route has offered them to visit the garbage dump where working adults and children in extreme poverty, to take pictures with the children. The landfill is located a few kilometers from Siem Reap, the most famous tourist destination in Cambodia, famous for the temples of Angkor. Siem Reap – Cambodia. More than 40 minors work in this garbage dump. They have come with their families from different regions of the country to work. (Daivd Rengel) A group of tourists on the bus that brought them to the garbage dump of Anlong Pi. They continue taking pictures and waving goodbye to the children and residents of the garbage dump. For these tourists it is part of their holiday. Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2014. (David Rengel) Kon Mai, 15, atop a mountain of garbage. He started to work in the garbage dump at 12. He had to leave school because his parents constantly are traveling from one place to another in the country or even outside Cambodia looking for work. He has five younger brothers. His parents also work at the garbage dump. At home there are problems of domestic violence and he wants to leave as soon as possible. In the future he would like to work in construction. Siem Reap – Cambodia. (David Rengel) Hael Kemra, 15, grabs the green sack that serves to collect recyclable waste. Her mother took her to the garbage dump of Anlong Pi to earn money when her father abandoned them. Siem Reap – Cambodia Sigen Rathy, 12. She returns to work as she sees the tourists leave the landfill. She wants to be a doctor in the future. Her parents also work in the landfill. She started there at 11. She earns about 4000 rieles daily, something less than $1. The landfill is located a few kilometers from Siem Reap, the most famous tourist destination in Cambodia, famous for the temples of Angkor. Siem Reap – Cambodia. Japanese tourists take pictures of the landfill. Tourists are informed of these visits by word of mouth or directly by local tour guides or in the hotels where they stay. Families working in landfill, do not say anything about the tours. The landfill is controlled by a private company that decides who gets the work at Anlong Pi. The company benefits economically from the tours. Siem Reaps – Cambodia.