1121 GMT January 22, 2020
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 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.