Poverty forces Syr­ian refugee chil­dren into work

Iran Daily - - Society -

When 13-year-old Mounir fled Syria for Le­banon with his fam­ily af­ter sur­viv­ing a rocket strike that nearly killed them, he thought he would be safe. In fact, he had swapped one form of dan­ger for an­other.

With his father un­able to work for health rea­sons, Mounir had to earn money for his fam­ily sell­ing sweets in the city of Tripoli — a job that kept him out on the streets un­til 11:00 p.m., mak­ing about 12,000 Le­banese pounds ($8) a day, Reuters re­ported.

Aid groups say more and more Syr­ian chil­dren like Mounir are hav­ing to work as poverty in­ten­si­fies among the about one mil­lion refugees liv­ing in Le­banon — roughly a quar­ter of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion.

The pro­por­tion of Syr­ian child refugees work­ing in Le­banon has risen to seven per­cent from four per­cent in late 2016, ac­cord­ing to re­search by the Dan­ish Refugee Coun­cil (DRC) re­leased early to the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

“It is sad to say that it is only go­ing to get worse,” said Bene­dict Nixon, spokesman for the Coun­cil. “As long as house­holds are not gen­er­at­ing in­come, rates of child la­bor will con­tinue to in­crease.”

The UN and aid agen­cies warned last month that a ‘crit­i­cal gap’ in fund­ing for Syr­ian refugees and host com­mu­ni­ties could lead to cuts in vi­tal ser­vices.

Glob­ally, con­flict and cli­mate-in­duced dis­as­ter have driven more chil­dren into work­ing in agri­cul­ture, which ac­counts for 71 per­cent of all child la­bor ac­cord­ing to the UN Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion (FAO).

“House­holds in Syr­ian refugee camps in Le­banon, for ex­am­ple, are prone to re­sort to child la­bor to en­sure the sur­vival of their fam­ily,” the FAO said in a state­ment re­leased on Tues­day to mark World day against child la­bor.

Tanya Cha­puisat, spokes­woman for the UN chil­dren’s agency UNICEF, said Syr­ian fam­i­lies in Le­banon of­ten had no choice but to send their chil­dren to work.

“Fam­i­lies are at their break­ing point when it comes to debt, and so to be able to get their ba­sic needs they are send­ing kids to work,” she said.

Mounir’s mother Has­naa said she feels in­tense guilt but has no choice but to send Mounir and his 17-year-old brother out to work rather, de­priv­ing them of an ed­u­ca­tion.

The rent alone on the small garage where the fam­ily lives is 280,000 Le­banese pounds a month.

“It feels like noth­ing is enough. Ev­ery­thing we have goes into pay­ing for rent,” she said.

More than three quarters of the refugees in Le­banon are liv­ing be­low the poverty line and strug­gling to sur­vive on less than $4 per day, ac­cord­ing to UNICEF, and less than half the Syr­ian chil­dren in the coun­try at­tend school.

Mounir knows his life is not like most 13-year-olds.

“A kid should be liv­ing a life of dig­nity and re­spect with no hu­mil­i­a­tion,” he said.

Even at 13, he said he was of­ten the old­est on the streets, where chil­dren as young as five worked along­side him.

Last month he found work closer to home at a bar­ber shop, where he earns 30,000 Le­banese pounds a week sweep­ing and help­ing the owner — though he still works 10-hour days.

His fa­vorite sub­ject at school be­fore Syria’s seven-year war cut his ed­u­ca­tion short was maths, and he dreams of go­ing back to learn how to read and write.

“I want to be­come a me­chanic. I like fix­ing things like mo­tors,” he said with a big, dim­pled smile.

GURCAN OZTURK/GETTY IMAGES

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