UNICEF: Generation of children ‘at stake’ in Lebanon crisis

Proportion of Lebanese families sending children to work increased sevenfold between April and October, UN says.

A young boy leaves a bakery with a bag of bread.
A young boy leaves a bakery with a bag of bread in the neighbourhood of Nabaa in the Lebanese capital Beirut's southern suburbs [File: AFP]

The UN children’s agency has called on Lebanon to take urgent action to protect children after it documented a spike in child labour rates and food insecurity since April.

Children have been hit hard by the country’s deep economic crisis exacerbated by the global coronavirus pandemic, which has left about eight in 10 people poor and threatens the education of some 700,000 children including 260,000 Lebanese, a report by UNICEF said on Tuesday.

“Urgent action is needed to ensure no child goes hungry, becomes sick, or has to work rather than receive an education,” said Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF’s representative in Lebanon, on Tuesday.

“The staggering magnitude of the crisis must be a wake-up call.”

The multifaceted crisis, rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement, has led to a breakdown in the provision of basic services such as electricity and water, the UN agency added.

Nearly half of households had insufficient drinking water by October, the report said, with one-third citing cost as the main factor.

UNICEF’s report also noted less than three in 10 families received social assistance, leading them to take “desperate measures”.

The proportion of Lebanese families sending children to work increased sevenfold to seven percent between April and October, the report said.

Lebanon is grappling with its worst-ever financial crisis with nearly 80 percent of the population estimated to be living below the poverty line.

UNICEF in October followed up with the more than 800 families it had surveyed in April and found since then living conditions had deteriorated dramatically.

“The future of an entire generation of children is at stake,” the report said.

‘Suicidal thoughts’

The survey found 53 percent of families had at least one child who skipped a meal in October, compared with 37 percent in April.

“The proportion of families … who sent children to work rose to 12 percent, from nine percent,” UNICEF added.

Almost 34 percent of children who required primary healthcare in October did not receive it, up from 28 percent in April.

“Life is very hard, it is becoming harder every day,” Hanan, a 29-year-old mother, was quoted as saying by UNICEF.

“Today I sent my four children to school without food. I have suicidal thoughts and the only thing stopping me from doing this is my children. I feel so bad for them.”

Amal, a 15-year-old who works as a fruit-picker in southern Lebanon, said she had to take up the job to support her family.

“Our parents need the money we earn. What would they do if we stopped working now?” she was quoted as saying.

“When I look to the future, I see life getting harder.”

Source: News Agencies