The Charcoal Kids
The Charcoal Kids of Ulingan
Words and Pictures by Lisa Wiltse
Photographer Lisa Wiltse explores the community of Ulingan in the Philippine capital Manila, where impoverished locals, many children, rely on the toxic and often dangerous charcoal industry for a basic living.
Thousands of poor urban slum dwellers in Ulingan – seemingly left behind by the growing Philipine economy – live amid filth and swirling toxic smoke as they eke out a living making charcoal with scraps of wood scavenged from nearby garbage dumps and Manila’s many busy construction sites.
At the village’s entrance, visitors are greeted by the scent of sea, decaying waste and burning wood. To say the conditions of Ulingan – situated on Manila Bay – are unhealthy would be an under-statement. It’s residents live right next to one of Manila’s many large open rubbish dumps and the community itself is littered with rotting food, broken equipment, abandoned waste, sharp metals and all manner of random and potentially dangerous garbage. But to the Ulingeros, it’s the only home they know and the abundant waste often becomes building material for make-shift houses.
The community of Ulingan is a home, a factory and also, in places, a toxic death-trap. Open pits expose the locals to constant emissions of large amounts of carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, soot and all manner of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals that are used in the treatment of wood. The result is a myriad of respiratory illnesses and heart disease, especially in the child workers. Water-borne diseases are also commonplace. Conditions in Ulingan are among the worst in Manila, perhaps all of the Phillipines. Much of the work-force in Ulingan are young children, some as young as six or seven, all of whom work without any kind of protective equipment; some even work without clothes. None have access to healthcare and few are in any kind of education. The little time they actually get to spend playing is either in thick toxic smoke or the fetid water of the nearby Manila Bay harbour.
- Despite such work being essentially banned under international law and UN Conventions, UNICEF estimates that globally around 250 million children aged 5 to 14 are workers, much of this labour is just as dangerous and exploitative as the work of the Ulingeros of Manila. The vast majority (153 million) of the world’s child workforce is in Asia, which, coincidentally, is also home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies. -ADF
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