Gabonese children wander around Mindoubé landfill in Libreville in search of copper or aluminium items buried within the unsanitary and unsafe dozens of metres high mountain of garbage — which also spans hundreds of metres in length.
It is the only dumpsite in the capital city where trucks dump some 800 tonnes of waste daily.
A pestilential stench emanates from the filth. Makeshift dwellings, made of metal sheets and salvaged materials, are built on top of the rubbish dump.
A heap of electronic objects, such as televisions and computers, are burnt to recover the copper and a pungent smoke stinks up the whole neighbourhood.
Excavators push the rubbish around in a permanent din. In the middle of this pandemonium, children wander around looking for copper
The ambitious children — come rain or shine, aim to sell the tossed metal made objects they gather at the end of the day in the hopes of yielding financial rewards for their families.
– “Children are dying” –
Gabon, one of Africa’s largest oil producers and one of the richest per capita in the region, saw an unemployment rate at 20.47% in 2020.
These children – some of whom work 15 hours a day at the dumb, can sell their findings for 3 euros a kilo and some can make 23 euros a day.
The hardworking children are exposed to all sorts of waste materials and can develop Respiratory diseases and skin rashes – among other health issues.
A sacrifice they make in order to contribute to their households.
Roselin Bendome — a children’s rights activist, is focused on the well-being of the children.
“It’s getting hard, really hard. There are a lot of children here who don’t even go to school anymore and they spend all their time here in the landfill.
“First, it’s the state and then the national education, but the national education cannot intervene without state authorisation. The state must first take care of these children.”
– Health Challenges and Lost Childhood –
Respiratory diseases, skin rashes, the health problems are numerous for the reclaimers. “I’m afraid for my health, but we force ourselves to do this. We can’t expect everything to come from our mother. We’re already old enough to take care of ourselves as you can see with the others here,” says 12-year-old Ekomi, who has been coming to the dump for a fortnight.
Daniel walks around with his shirt off. The 17-year-old has a huge gash across his chest. “I hurt myself with an iron bar,” he says. He comes to the dump to “make some money and to help the family. ” Daniel lives alone in a small makeshift dwelling made of wooden pallets. A cooler is used to store his clothes.
“It’s our livelihood, our daily life,” says Crépin, a 20-year-old who has been working at the dump for five years. He wears a T-shirt over his head to protect himself from the sun and carries a bag full of copper.
“It’s only to earn a few francs that he puts his life in danger,” laments Grâce Ongo-Mbou, the president of the association Les Guerriers du social. Her NGO raises awareness among the children who work on the dump, by encouraging them to go to school or by organising sports events.
“The state should ban child labour on the dump. You can find five-year-olds here, there are children dying too, under trucks, who are mutilated. It kills me to see children digging in the garbage,” she says.