Children working and begging..Who is responsible for exposing them to danger in Lebanon?

Beirut- In front of a minibus with bunches of bananas hanging from it, the Lebanese Ahmad Mawas, 14, sits from 7 am to 7 pm to sell the bus owner’s crop.

The young man hides his sadness with his teary eyes, then he invokes the pain of his head from the sun’s rays, and realizes that his extreme fatigue is wasted, indicating his bare feet “even shoes can’t buy them.” Ahmed dreams of returning to the school he left two years ago, “but I forgot everything, and I am forced to support my mother and brothers with household expenses.”

Ahmed Mawas (14 years old) works 12 hours a day to sell the bus owner’s crops (Al-Jazeera)

Children in the “cemetery of strangers”

Hundreds of meters away from it, children are playing in the “cemetery of strangers” in Tripoli (Northern Lebanon), some of them practiced beggary, and others work for low wages.

Here, dozens of destitute families live in houses that were built randomly at the edge of the graves, and their miserable lives coincided with the dead, in a cemetery that turned into a belt of misery decades ago.

The “stranger” families pay most of their children to work. Among the graves, 15-year-old Bahaa Merhi takes a walk with a group of his peers, lights a cigarette, and tells us about his work washing cars after leaving school, “because it won’t help me, and I want to work to live and help my father.”

In her home in the neighborhood, Bushra Zaki, 36, prepares bulgur for her six children, and talks about her struggle to secure their livelihood. She tells Al Jazeera Net that she sent her 14-year-old daughter to work in the domestic service, while her son, Qusai, 15, is looking for a job to help them.

Children’s work stories

These stories are a sample of the stories of thousands of poor families. Experts believe that it reflects a reversal of roles, and instead of children receiving care, circumstances imposed on them the responsibility to help their parents.

A few days ago, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that the future of children in Lebanon was at stake; The number of families that sent their children to work increased from 9 to 12%, while 53% of families with at least one child missed a meal, and between 3 and 10 families reduced education expenses.

What wallpapers children’s tragedies?

UNICEF representative in Lebanon Yuki Muku explains in an interview with Al Jazeera Net the details of the study, which relied on telephone questionnaires with a survey on the first of last April on 1244 families, followed by a second survey last October on 838 families, and included a representative sample of Lebanese and Syrians The Palestinians are distributed over all eight governorates.

Moko describes Lebanon’s crisis as “devastating”, as it led to high rates of vulnerability and inequality among children; “They found themselves on the street facing grave dangers,” the study’s figures reveal – according to her – that one in every 8 children engaged in work.

His rights are forfeited just because he is in the labor marketAccording to the UNICEF representative, child labor hinders their growth opportunities (Al-Jazeera)

Children’s work areas

Like the rest of the world, more than 50% of these children work in agriculture, and the rest work in shops, beg, or do informal work in cities.

There is not enough data on the wages of working children, Moko said. It is based on a study in 2021 that “showed that children’s wages do not cover their basic needs, with a daily average of between 5,000 Lebanese pounds (0.03 cents) and 15,000 pounds (0.57 cents), while the earnings of children engaged in street work vary depending on age, gender, location, season and work performed.” .

The UNICEF representative said that child labor disrupts their development opportunities, they are exposed to physical and psychological abuse and illegal activities, and they become adults before their time.

Moko believes that the percentage of children involved in work does not necessarily confirm that they have stopped studying, but – according to UNICEF assessment – “the deep crisis threatens the right of the most vulnerable children to education,” and she expects that about 440,000 refugee children will not return, and 260,000 Lebanese children – who They are of school age – to school.

Where is the Ministry of Labour?

Nominally, child labor conflicts with Lebanese laws and international conventions on children’s rights that the authorities have signed.

Here, many wonder about the role of the Lebanese Ministry of Labor in addressing this dangerous phenomenon, because it plays a major role in the field, through the inspection, the National Committee and the Unit for Combating Child Labor.

Head of the Child Labor Unit at the Ministry of Labor, Nozha Shalitah, acknowledges that child labor continues to rise, and says that the age of employment in the Lebanese Labor Law starts from 14 years; And another decree classifies the worst forms of child labor under the age of 18, such as trafficking in their bodies, drugs, dangerous work and armed conflicts, and “criminally criminalizes the employer,” noting that beggary is the worst form of child labour.

She explains to Al Jazeera Net that the ministry records – in parallel with that – a high rate of exchange from work, which is offset by a rise in the rate of child labor, as if they are an alternative to some employers for adults.

Inspection difficulty

And because inspection is in the organized sector and not the unorganized – according to Shalitah – and the capabilities are weak financially, humanly and socially, it is difficult to inspect, for several reasons, including:

  • The severe shortage of inspectors, and there are only 11 technical inspectors, and less than 20 administrative inspectors with assistants, and they cannot cover all Lebanese sectors and regions.
  • Most of the working children are Lebanese and refugees who work in the informal sectors and in invisible places.

Since 2017, the Ministry of Labor has established – according to Shalita – a joint cooperation committee with the General Directorate of Public Security, to prosecute child labor on Lebanese territory. But she believes that the international community and human rights organizations are not doing their part towards children.

Shalitah states that the International Labor Organization is directly concerned with the file and is responsible for material and technical support, and “we do not perceive giving the issue the required practical margin, in exchange for organizations only issuing digital reports, while the official authorities do not have the tools and financial support to combat the phenomenon completely.”

The roots of the crisis

Adiba Hamdan, a professor of sociology at the Lebanese University, links school dropout to child labour, and states that education is a very important issue in Lebanese society, yet “thousands of families sent their children to work instead of education, and the latter became a secondary issue.

A group of children working - Al JazeeraA group of children working and subjected to various forms of bullying (Al-Jazeera)

Risks faced by working children

Shalitah told Al Jazeera Net that child labor is exacerbated and is a phenomenon in the summer during the school vacation, and the number of the most prominent risks faced by working children:

  • Wasting rights just to enter the labor market and leave the category of children’s generation, and this is the first loss.
  • The child is subject to various forms of bullying in terms of his appearance, structure and behavior, and to abuse; Such as sexual harassment and his financial exploitation, his long hours of working without breakdowns, and the wasting of his energies, while he is in the stage of preparation and education.
  • Friction in the field of work – regardless of its type – exposes the child to obstacles in his life path and falters his upbringing later, because it can be an environment ready for the child’s deviation.

Who is responsible then?

The UNICEF representative affirms their quest to care for working children, and Moko says that children need the support of everyone, from the government, the international community, civil society, the private sector and local communities, to ensure that child protection policies are implemented.

For her part, Adiba Hamdan believes that the state is primarily responsible for protecting children, but that social policies are historically absent in Lebanon.

She said that the intertwined crises two years ago made the state almost resigned from its care role, which affected the children’s reality automatically.

Hamdan finds that there is a responsibility on families, and there is no one to cover their disability, and the danger – in her opinion – is the gradual reversal of roles in some families, bearing their children the weight of their care, instead of providing them with moral, material and educational support and protection from the dangers threatening their present and future.

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