Over 1,500 Children Live or Work on Lebanon’s Streets, Study Claims

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An undated photo shows a young girl selling gum on Hamra Street in the Lebanese capital Beirut. Al-Akhbar/Marwan Tahtah

Published Monday, February 16, 2015

Updated at 5:50 pm (GMT+2): More than 1,500 children are living or working on Lebanon's streets, nearly three-quarters of them Syrian and most scraping by through begging or roadside vending, a study published on Monday showed.

The survey of 18 areas in Lebanon identified a total of 1,510 children were found to be living or working on the streets according to the study from the International Labor Organization, the UN Children's Fund UNICEF and charity Save the Children International.

However, the study's authors said the real number nationwide could be three times higher.

Of the children identified by the study, 73 percent were from Syria, including Palestinians who had been living in the war-torn country, the study found.

The number of children begging in Lebanese cities is one of the most visible signs of the country's refugee crisis. Lebanon’s population has grown by nearly 25 percent since the war in Syria began in 2011, with over 1.5 million Syrian refugees sheltered in a country with a population of 4 million, making it the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world.

The refugee influx has put huge pressure on the country's already scarce resources and poor infrastructure, education and health systems, and has also contributed to rising tensions in a nation vulnerable to security breaches and instability.

The children working on the streets earned on average of less than $12 per day and more than half of them were aged between 10 and 14 years old, the study said. More than 25 percent were under the age of nine.

"The recent influx of refugees from Syria, many of whom are children, has certainly exacerbated this problem, but is by no means the core cause or consequence of children living or working on the streets," the study said.

It said that social exclusion, poverty, organized crime and general exploitation of children were also to blame.

The study, which was supported by Lebanon's Ministry of Labor, said 43 percent of the children who worked were begging, while street vending accounted for 37 percent.

Most children entered the market between 7 and 14 years of age, and 42 percent were illiterate, it said. The majority worked more than six days a week and an average of eight and a half hours a day.

A majority had never been to school and although 40 percent expressed a desire to learn, just three percent were attending classes and working on the streets.

The report was released with videos featuring the testimony of street children voiced over animated drawings of their experiences.

"A lot of people mocked me, insulted me and beat me," recalled 11-year-old Mustafa in one of the videos, describing his life selling flowers to raise money for his family back home.

"Once a drunk man came out of a pub and stabbed me in the arm with a knife," he said.

"My favorite day was when I would go to the money transfer office to send money to my family in Syria."

Overwhelmed by a massive influx of desperate refugees, Lebanon began imposing unprecedented visa restrictions on Syrians in January.

Syrians have overtaken Afghans as the largest refugee population worldwide aside from Palestinians, fleeing to more than 100 countries to escape war in their homeland, the UN said last month.

At more than three million as of mid-2014, Syrians accounted for nearly one in four of the 13 million refugees worldwide being assisted by the UN refugee agency, the highest figure since 1996, it said in a report. Some 5 million Palestinians refugees are cared for by a separate agency, UNRWA.

According to a report by Amnesty in December, wealthy nations have only taken in a "pitiful" number of the millions of refugees uprooted by Syria's conflict, placing the burden on the country's ill-equipped neighbors.

"Around 3.8 million refugees from Syria are being hosted in five main countries within the region: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt," Amnesty said at the time. "Only 1.7 percent of this number have been offered sanctuary by the rest of the world."

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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