Live

Leben

In the surroundings of the garbage dump of Phnom Penh approximately 2000 families live directly or indirectly from the collecting and selling of valuables. One third of the wastepickers are children between 10 and 14 years old. The second largest group, with 18%, are teenagers aged between 15 and 19 years. Children and teenagers are the part of the urban population of Phnom Penh which are most strongly affected by poverty and social grievance. (1)

Frequently children bear the whole responsibility for the survival of the family and dedicate most of their time to work on the garbage dump. Without fail this suggests that their education and vocational training is insufficient. Even education that does take place breaks off eventually. Therefore the wastepicker-kids are strongly limited in their personal development, in contrast to socially better-secured contemporaries.
Almost 70% of the kids less than 15 years told me that they are currently attending, or have attended, elementary school. Only one percent of these kids had the possibility to attend secondary school. However more than 30% of the kids have never received any school education, and are illiterate.

Most wastepicking teenagers under 18 years do not attend school at all, or receive any formal education. They have to survive on the collection of harvest from waste. More than 70% among them work 8 hours or more each day. Involuntarily, these kids sacrifice their training opportunities and chances of any further professional and personnel development, in order to improve the family income. Therefore they can never succeed in developing the skills and knowledge necessary to break away from the vicious circle of poverty.

Many are trapped in this situation and live "from hand to mouth". The loss of the daily income implies that the family will not have enough money to afford a sufficient amount of food.

At the same time, the enduring poverty and daily struggle for survival leads to permanent stress and social tensions within the families and the larger wastepicker community. Often these tensions discharge in form of domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and gambling.
In combination with infectious and chronic diseases like HIV/AIDS, TB, Hepatitis, Asthma, etc., this puts additional burdens on the very difficult circumstances of all participants. In fact every day in Phnom Penh one can read of brutal events of all kinds in the local newspapers. Poverty on a very broad level, as well as the mass-traumatic experiences of the Cambodian society before and during the Pol Pot regime, are the main reasons for these excesses of violence.

(1) The figures refer to data available in 2001 and earlier, unless indicated differently (please check also the bibliography). Some ratios have been improved through the intensive activities of relief organisations during the past few years. Current figures should be requested there in case of interest.