Carrying bricks, picking potatoes: all in a day's work for Syrian children in Lebanon

Author: Nick Grono, CEO Freedom Fund in Guardian (UK), Published on: 9 February 2016

Officially, Lebanon is home to almost 1.2 million refugees, but unofficial estimates put it at more than 1.5 million. Given that its prewar population was just over 4 million, this is an overwhelming burden, one with which any government would struggle to cope. Syrian refugees in Lebanon are highly vulnerable to exploitation. Most have little or no money...But the Lebanese government – keen to stop Syrians settling permanently in Lebanon – is preventing refugees from working or even residing legally in the country....This creates conditions ripe for abusive employers to exploit vulnerable refugees....As children are less likely to be stopped at checkpoints, they are forced to work in the fields or in nearby towns. Unscrupulous employers prefer them because they are more compliant, and more unwilling to complain about physical abuse. For this laborious and often hazardous work, they are paid a few dollars at most, a portion of which is often retained by the Syrian settlement leader...While allowing adults to work would not end child labour and early marriage, it would significantly reduce the scale and severity of exploitation. It is for this reason that the Turkish government agreed in January to issue work permits to its Syrian refugees. But for this to happen in Lebanon, pressure and support is required to persuade the government to change its counterproductive policies...There are many truly tragic consequences of the Syria conflict, but we should ensure that the forced labour and early marriage of Syrian children do not continue being among them.

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