Lebanon’s multiple crises are threatening the future of millions of children. Urgent Action should be taken to safeguard their rights including by ensuring their access to education and other basic needs and by enhancing their protection from abuse and harm.
Children and families in Lebanon are enduring multiple crises. The economic collapse and the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly curtailed children’s rights and their access to basic services. This has been compounded by political deadlock, rising instability, and the enduring impact of the Beirut port explosions. Children’s education is being interrupted, their mental wellbeing is worsening, there is increasing child labour and early marriage. Behind closed doors, physical, verbal and sexual violence is being perpetrated against children.
Children and caregivers across Lebanon were negatively affected by the extensive containment measures including the lockdown and home quarantine imposed following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than half (59%) of children surveyed in 2020 did not have access to psychological and social support, entertainment, nutrition, and security. 46% feared contracting the virus and transmitting it to their family members. In 2021, children have expressed less negative feelings regarding the pandemic thanks to the rollout of vaccinations and a perceived decrease in reported cases, the return to physical learning in schools, and the resumption of play and social activities. However, children are now experiencing more profoundly the impact of the economic crisis.
The majority of survey respondents (69%) experienced challenges accessing distance learning in 2020, with 33% of children citing economic challenges as the major barrier to their learning. 21% of children noted that their need to work was more important than their education. Children are overwhelmingly positive about their return to school in 202l, although social workers and teachers are more wary of increased risk of COVID-19 infections and are concerned about the increasing cost of fuel and transportation.
A third of children surveyed in 2020 believed that the challenges to accessing education drove them to work, with 22% attributing child labour to school drop outs. A quarter of children and service providers believed that children between the ages 13 –15 were rightly eligible to work. In 2021, the majority of respondents noted the link between the economic crisis and increase in child labour.
Children with disabilities have experienced marginalisation throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in Lebanon as noted by the majority (76%) of children, caregivers and service providers in 2020. Access to education, food and healthcare – especially given the increase in the costs of medicine and specialized care – are predominant challenges, that have been exacerbated by the removal of subsidies on food and medicine.
Refugee children have faced precarious conditions throughout the pandemic, especially as many are unable to practice physical distancing or quarantine within their densely populated informal settlements.
While the majority of respondents reported the impact of the pandemic and economic crisis being similar across the different nationalities in Lebanon, refugee and migrant communities have been hit hardest.
Children have been more exposed to violence since the outbreak of the pandemic in Lebanon, with the majority (77%) reporting psychological or emotional violence and 47% reporting physical violence. Other forms of harm and abuse experienced by children since 2020 include sexual violence (10%) neglect (36%), exploitation (21%) and violence in the workplace (25%). In 2021, children also reported that being at home had resulted in tension between them and their parents, leading to emotional, verbal and physical violence.
Girls were being married at a younger age (13 to 14 years old) in 2020, compared to 2019 (16 to 17 years old). Moreover, child marriage rates have increased across the country. In 2021, it is estimated that 20% of Syrian refugee girls aged between 15 – 19 years are married These rates are however thought to be much higher due to underreporting. Children surveyed in 2021 noted increased occurrences of child marriage largely as a result of the economic situation. Caregivers, social workers, and teachers noted that girls are more impacted by child marriage largely due to the worsening economic situation.
Over half of all respondents believed that the COVID-19 pandemic increased the number of children recruited into armed conflicts. This was due to: family disintegration, lack of education or school dropouts, lockdown or absence of recreational places, domestic violence, and lack of spaces for children to express themselves. The 2021 UN Secretary General report on children in armed conflict verified 16 cases of grave violations against children which included the recruitment and use of children, the arrests and prosecution under military jurisdiction, and the maiming and killing of children. The report further expresses concerns about the detention of children for alleged association with armed groups. Children, caregivers, teachers and social workers surveyed in 2021 noted that more children are joining armed group largely due to the decline in the economic circumstances.