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‘We are working like animals’: Elderly women risk lives crushing rock for money in Cameroon

In this photo taken on Thursday, June 16, 2016, an old woman stand inside a quarry were she works with others crushing rocks in Maroua, Cameroon. AP Photo/Joel Kouam

MAROUA, Cameroon  — In a northern Cameroon town menaced by food insecurity and suicide bombers, women as old as 85 are spending long, grueling days crushing rocks into gravel to earn a living.

The dangerous, sometimes fatal work often pays no more than $2 per day, but it has increasingly become the best option for women like Marie Nangatai, 73, who began laboring three years ago at one of dozens of rock-crushing sites in the mountains near Maroua, the capital of Cameroon’s Far North region.

“My whole body hurts, we are working like animals. But there’s nothing we can do,” Nangatai said recently during a short break in her 12-hour workday, sitting under the hot sun.

“You see all this gravel around me, when I call those who buy it they’ll give me 1,000 CFA francs (less than $2).”

When she began reporting to gravel sites in 2013, northern Cameroon was reeling from four straight years of alternating droughts and floods that doomed crops and left families with little or no food reserves, according to the World Food Program.

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