Quarry workers in Yaounde can be permanently found at the Warda cross-roads. Building up a sweat, they chip away at large rocks or lumps of calcium to transform into gravel for use in the construction industry. Among these workers, you also find young boys such as Aziz, who is just 15 years old.
Sat on the ground, Aziz taps away at the large stones with the aid of a hammer. It is hot this 10 April and large beads of sweat form on his forehead. With every swing of the hammer, his face looks tense from the effort.
Aziz says he’s been working in the quarry for 16 months. He works between 9 and 11 hours a day, using his bare hands. As a result of this activity, he has badly swollen and cracked hands. The stones are sharp and he has nothing to protect himself. He is dressed in rags and has numerous scars on his hands and feet.
“I’m regularly injured by stone chippings. Sometimes, I accidentally hit my fingers with the hammer,” he explains. An umbrella was put up in his workplace. This is where he takes shelter from time to time – when he can no longer stand the heat of the sun.
Aziz doesn’t have spare time outside work. « When I return home, I am so tired that I go straight to sleep”, he explains. It is therefore at work where he washes his clothes while the others stop to eat.
A poor salary
The gravel is sold by the wheelbarrow, which is the equivalent of a 30 litre bucket. Aziz has to work four hours to fill one barrow, which is then sold for 1,52 euros and more. However, he only receives 0,6 euros of this per barrow of gravel sold. The remaining earnings go directly to his employer.
Aziz never went to school. He left the village where he was born, in the extreme north of the country, to find work in the capital with someone from the same village. His employer, who wishes to remain anonymous, also offers him accommodation and one meal a day. Aziz sends the majority of his earnings to his parents, to go towards family costs.
When I asked the employer why Aziz doesn’t go to school like his own children, he responded: “Aziz doesn’t know how to read or write. He can no longer go to primary school at 15 years old. It is better for him to work.” As for the money that Aziz receives, his employer explains that it is not a salary as such: “It is just a bit of help that a father would give to his son,” he says.
For sociologist, Valentin Melingui, cases like this are nothing other than exploitation. Normally, machines are used to crush these types of stone but employers prefer to use child labour. “Young people are a cheap work force, easy to manipulate and less demanding,” analyses the sociologist.
The rights of children
Breaking stone all day is a job that demands a great deal of physical maturity and should be carried out by adults.
According to a UN convention governing the rights of children “a child is classified as a person younger than eighteen years old”. Article 32 of this convention stipulates that a child has the right to be “protected against economic exploitation and should not be forced into any job poses health risks or compromises their right to education.”
Aziz’s employer gets worked up when we talk about exploitation. He claims to be Aziz’s saviour. “If I don’t employ him, he will certainly become a thug,” he says.
Cameroon: hub of forced child labour
The 2011 US State Department Report, published on 22 July, reveals that “Cameroon is a country of origin, transit and a destination for child victims of trafficking for the purposes of forced labour”. The report indicates that trafficking usually targets deprived children from rural families. Children “from the country’s ten regions of involuntarily work in the domestic services and mining. In the agricultural sector, they are found in tea or cocoa plantations”.
The report also indicates that Cameroon does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the eradication of trafficking. Moreover, the country did not take the necessary steps to enact a 2006 draft law prohibiting the trafficking of adults, and did not exhibit significant efforts to protect victims of trafficking.
In Cameroon, a law enforced in 2005 prescribes heavy penalties for child trafficking or slavery. Yet, despite this arsenal of laws, “the Cameroonian government has made little advance, over the last year, in its efforts to quell trafficking by means of legislation”.
For all these reasons, Cameroon has been placed, for the fourth consecutive year, on a US watch list. Among proposed recommendations, the report suggested that Cameroonian authorities should “increase efforts to prosecute and convict trafficking offenders, including complicit officials”.