Violence and Sexual Assaults.. 85,000 Syrian Children are crushed by the Lebanese Labour Market!

Violence and Sexual Assaults.. 85,000 Syrian Children are crushed by the Lebanese Labour Market!

Reports | 6 10 2022

Pascal Soma

A quick tour of Lebanon's regions, especially the remote ones, is enough to observe horrific scenes of Syrian children working in shops, construction workshops, carpentry, farming… They have small bodies that bear heavy burdens during the worsening economic crisis in Lebanon, and the continued refugee crisis without reaching a solution or providing sufficient aid to the host countries and the victims of war and oppression.

This report documents some of these stories driven by the poor financial situation and the spread of chaos, and the not respecting the rights of children to education and protection from violence, which is a tragedy that has been exacerbated after the collapse of the value of the Lebanese pound, and the living crisis that intensely affects the refugee communities.

We walked in so impoverished neighbourhoods where Lebanese and Syrian children are subjected to violence in all its forms, such as bullying, beating, and sexual assault, in addition to depriving them of the wages they deserve.

Five dollars per week!

After her husband died five years ago, Faten lives with her seven children in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, and she became the only breadwinner for her children. Faten says that she stopped receiving the financial aid granted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), she only gets food aid, which is not enough for her and her children.

Faten's sons Iskandar (10 years old) and Haidar (12 years old) work in a perfume shop in the old Tripoli market and each one of them earns 200,000 Lebanese pounds per week (about $5).

Before that, they worked selling tissue paper in Al Noor Square. They used to be robbed by cars and pedestrians. They also worked in a café in the Al-Tal neighbourhood, and the employer mistreated them and was shouting at them with harsh racist words.

Faten works in a charcoal shop, and two of her children also work with her. While her eldest daughter (14 years) is a housewife and stays at home instead of her mother, where she takes care of her infant brother (from another father, since her mother married and was divorced later), and performs the housework of cleaning and cooking…

"I do not have a refrigerator or a washing machine, I only have three beds for me and for my children to sleep… I cannot send my children to school; the costs are high and I do not have money. They will not go this school year, they will stay near me to help me secure a living," says Faten.

This is the story of six children from the same family who are out of school and their seventh brother is likely to have no better fate.

"I dream to have a house…"

"My life is so miserable, I only depend on Allah, and then the aid card of the UNHCR," says Nadera Saleh Al-Hussein, who lives in the Sheikh Rabi Maree camp in Khirbet Al-Daoud, Akkar. She along with her family came to Lebanon ten years ago, and until now she dreams of getting out of her tent to a house where she can live in with her children.

Like the previous year, the seven children are out of school this year, and they are looking for a job to secure their needs after they worked selling vegetables, and sometimes they were receiving a wage, while other times they only received bad treatment, verbal and physical violence...

In addition to the fact that they are children, and it is easy to control them or touch their small bodies, they are Syrians, which exposes them to racism and vulnerability. In addition, some parents and networks exploit them to make living, at the expense of depriving them of their right to education, play and a normal childhood.

Violence and Sexual Exploitation

Several videos showing Syrian children that are beaten and exploited have spread. One of these videos showed an employer beating and flogging Syrian children in one of the agricultural fields in Lebanon.

We continued our tour to Aarsal, and contacted one of the activists working in the refugee camps, she told us about the exploitation of children in agricultural works and construction workshops. She preferred to remain anonymous so that she could tell us the stories. She says: "Most of those who come to me for help have children who work. The employer does not fulfil his promise to them and does not pay the children their wages, especially if the employer is Lebanese, and whoever demands his wage will be subjected to violence and brutal beatings. So, most of them are afraid to submit a complaint or demand their rights."

Women receive wages half of what men earn (about 50,000 Lebanese pounds), while children receive half or less of this amount for a working day.

Muhammad (17 years old) was working in carpentry with a family in Aarsal, but the employer refused to pay his dues, although he was an orphan and forced to work to support his family. Muhammad demanded his right, so he was brutally beaten until his feet were broken, and he could not receive treatment because it was expensive. When he returned to demand his rights again, he was threatened with raping his sister, so Muhammad fled from Aarsal to another area, and now he is unable to walk. One of Muhammad's relatives told us this story, and he is still under threat and afraid to visit the area.

The activist talked about forced labour and exploitation of students in agricultural projects in Aarsal and Qaa, besides the bad treatment by the Shawish (supervisor) and the refusal to pay their wages. Moreover, many children and women are subjected to sexual harassment and exploitation.

To Tripoli again...

"The situation is not good, neither for children nor for adults," says Abdel Hamid, a father of 9 children (5 girls and 4 boys), the oldest of whom is 15 years old, and the youngest is an infant. Three of his children work, one of them sells vegetables, while the two others sell cakes in the city streets. Abdel Hamid says: "Every day they come sad after they cried because of bullying and attacks, people are having fun with their oppression."

Three years have passed and Abdul Hamid's children are out of school. He says: "I live with my family in a room in the Bab al-Raml area, in Tripoli. I am looking for alternative housing, but the rents are so expensive and exceed $150, and I cannot pay such an amount."

Like the same tragedy, Ahmed along with his eight children live in very difficult living conditions. Muhammad (14 years old) is one of these children. We met him in a vegetable store, where his working hours last from six in the morning until seven in the evening (which exceeds the number of working hours as per the Lebanese labour law, i.e. 8 hours a day) with a little amount. Every evening he returns with swollen feet and an exhausted body.

His brother Jamal (7 years old) suffers from brain atrophy, and his parents also facing difficulties in securing his treatment, while his second brother (10 years old) does not know what children do in school since he never entered it.

Close to Muhammad, Maher sadly narrates the bullying and mistreatment that his seven children are subjected to. His two children, who sell sweets pieces, are often harassed, and his third son was subjected to a traffic accident and his hand was broken, and when the driver knew that he was a Syrian, he ran away and disappeared.

Kheder is selling vegetables after he was run over, which led to breaking his hand.

Towards Batroun

Amani lives in Batroun city (Northern Lebanon) with her husband and five children, and she migrated to Lebanon due to the Syrian war eight years ago. Amani complains of the bad conditions and expensive rents since the United Nations aid is no longer sufficient.

Her 12-year-old son works in a tire shop to help his father, who works in concrete workshops. The child leaves his home in the early morning and returns in the late evening in exchange for 200,000 liras per week, or about 800,000 liras per month (less than 20 dollars).

85 thousand children!

The Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon (VASyR), conducted by the UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP) and UNICEF, shows that the number of Syrian working refugee children increased by more than doubled between 2019 and 2021. The number of these children reached 82,527, the majority of whom are males.

UNICEF partners have affirmed that children under the age of six currently work on streets and farms, and sell fuel on the roads in an illegal way which may expose them to the danger of serious burns or even death. In addition, these children are exposed to other threats including abuse, violence and sexual exploitation.

The UNICEF report for the year 2021 stated that more than half of children, i.e. 56 per cent between the ages of one and 14 years, have experienced at least one form of physical or psychological aggression. Moreover, since 2019, the phenomenon of children between 5 and 17 years of age who are subjected to child labour has doubled in 2021.

According to the latest data, the percentage of Syrian refugee children residing in Lebanon who have never gone to school has reached 30 per cent, and the primary school enrolment rate has declined by at least 21 per cent during the past year alone.

In this context, the media spokesperson for the UNHCR in Lebanon, Lisa Abu Khaled, said to the author of this report that “many young children, especially girls, are not sent to school because of the high costs related to transportation and others, while older boys and young men leave school for marriage. Among other reported obstacles that prohibit education for Syrian children was the lack of available places, legal obstacles that ban registration, language issues, long distances, and the lack of transportation means and their cost".

An assessment of the vulnerability aspects of Syrian refugees in Lebanon indicates that in 2021, the number of family members, including children who were engaged in low-paid or high-risk work or worked extra shifts to obtain the same income as the family was earning in 2020, has increased.

In 2021, the number of Syrian children involved in the labour market reached no less than 27,825. While one girl out of five girls between the ages of 15 and 19 has married. The results of the 2022 vulnerability assessment are still incomplete. Abu Khaled says: "However, the preliminary results indicate a similar increase as in child labour".

She continues: "The economic situation and the external financial environment constitute a major challenge, but we work in close cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and our partners to ensure that all children in Lebanon have access to education."

Despite the efforts exerted by civil society and UNHCR to support children, banning their employment and depriving them of education, they are still exposed to all these risks, and laws are still unable to protect them. This is because submitting a complaint against abuses of this kind is hampered by several obstacles such as not dealing seriously with the complaints, the racism practised against Syrians in general, the lack of awareness of the law and rights, the family's need to employ their children and the spread of child labour and exploitation networks.

Defect of the Legal System

The international consultant in child protection and expert in alternative family care, Zina Alloush, believes that "the Syrian asylum problem cannot be separated from the general political situation and from systematic injustice and violence, which creates an imbalance in the legal system and certainly affects the most vulnerable groups namely women and children."

She confirmed that this asylum is the result of systematic violence that exists in another place and is associated with systemic violence in the country of asylum. All of these reasons generate what is called the marginalization of the category of children, which could lead to additional violence against children especially when they are forced to enter the labour market.

As for the protection frameworks that must be applied to protect these children, Alloush stresses that "they must include all children on Lebanese territory. These frameworks are currently weak, which doubly affects children who came from an environment that marginalizes them. Likewise, in the current conditions that Lebanon is going experiencing, all children are exposed to major violence due to the economic and social pressures and insecurity".

Alloush pointed out that "engagement of children in the labour market and informal employment exposes them to very high risks including health risks (wounds, amputations..).
Also, they are exposed to social risks, and economic and social exploitation, not to mention the exposure to harassment and perhaps sexual abuse when these children are far from family protection. So, the economic factor becomes a pressure tool on children, which exposes them to all forms of exploitation, besides their abandonment of school which leads to major problems physically, emotionally and socially, then children enter into a vicious cycle of violence.”

Alloush also confirmed that the presence of children in unprotected workplaces and their dropping out of school is considered an attack on their rights, then how if we add the racism factor, the lack of legal, economic and social factors, and the absence of protection mechanisms?

She believes that the solutions in Lebanon cannot be separated from the political reality. In a country where all rights are violated, it is very difficult to think about protecting children without thinking about supporting families, in addition to activating compulsory and free education and the right to obtain health services...

Are law and international conventions applied?

Article 22 of the Labour Law forbids the employment of minors before they complete their thirteenth years, while Article 23 of the same law prohibits the employment of minors in industrial projects and hard work or those harmful to their health before they complete their fifteenth years.

The article also prohibits the employment of minors under the age of sixteen in dangerous work or works that may endanger their life, health, or morals, because of the circumstances in which they are carried out.

It is also prohibited to employ minors under eighteen for more than six hours per day, including at least one hour for rest if the daily working hours exceed four continuous hours. It is also prohibited to employ them between 7 in the evening and 7 in the morning.

The law also refers to a secondary paid leave for the child of not less than 21 days after a year of work, besides official holidays and occasions.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child issued by the General Assembly also stipulates the need to protect the child from any economic exploitation and from conducting any work that is likely to be dangerous to him or negatively affect his education, health and mental, spiritual and social development...

Until these texts turn into a real deterrence and accountability mechanism, Muhammad, Haider, Iskandar, and many Syrian and Lebanese children will remain victims of bullying, violence, sexual assaults, and school dropouts in the "mill" of the Lebanese labour market.

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