How to Reduce Child Labor in Lebanon?

Published September 29th, 2019 - 08:48 GMT
“We will not accept any industry unless it is free of child labor,” Abu Faour told the assembly.

Three ministers have promised to work, along with other government agencies and civil society organizations, to reduce child labor in Lebanon.

Labor Minister Camille Abousleiman, Industry Minister Wael Abu Faour and Social Affairs Minister Richard Kouyoumjian pledged action after a conference on the issue of child labor.

The event was held in Beirut Wednesday, organized by the Industry Ministry, the Association of Lebanese Industrialists and the NGO Nidal Li Ajel al-Ensan (or “Struggle for the Human”).

“We will not accept any industry unless it is free of child labor,” Abu Faour told the assembly.

Rima Saliba, the NGO’s president, said that 7 percent of Lebanese children are now in the workforce, a marked increase on earlier figures.

“This is a dangerous phenomenon,” she said. “Seven years ago, the percentage was 1.9. The percentage has tripled, and this is something very worrisome.”

A United Nations report on child labor in Lebanon from November 2018, showed 6 percent of Lebanese and 6.7 percent of Syrian children aged 5 to 17 to be in the workforce. That number is higher than that of the regionwide percentage of children in the workforce, estimated by the International Labor Organization to be 2.9 percent in the Arab states - although it is lower than the worldwide average of 9.6 percent.

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The U.N. report noted that child labor in Lebanon “has increased significantly since the start of the Syrian crisis, as the impact of the war on the Lebanese economy has resulted in worsened economic and social hardship for families.”

Among Syrians, the report noted, the lack of access to legal residency may have exacerbated the situation, causing adults to restrict their movement out of fear of arrest and making them more likely to send their children to work.

Lebanese law currently forbids employment of children under the age of 14. Abousleiman said he will seek an increase in the legal age to 15, as well as stronger implementation of existing laws.

“Our experience with the implementation of the plan to organize non-Lebanese labor has proved that we can apply laws on the ground, whenever there is genuine will and determination,” he said, referring to his ministry’s recent crackdown on businesses employing non-Lebanese workers without work permits.

Kouyoumjian said that, apart from enforcement of the law, the government needs to work with international donors to address the poverty that is driving families to send their children to work.

“In order to ban [child] labor, we need to make better social and economic circumstances for the family, because no one ... makes his son or daughter work unless he is in a miserable situation,” he said.

“So, let us eliminate this reason [for child labor].”

Saliba listed a number of steps that could be taken by the government and NGOs, including training of business owners on the laws governing child labor, meetings with child workers, outreach to families to let them know what services are available, and the creation of special schools for child workers who have been out of education for years.

She pointed to the presence of the three ministers at Wednesday’s meeting as a sign that the government is serious about addressing the issue.

“Perhaps the Labor Ministry by itself is not able to do anything, the Social Affairs Ministry by itself is not able to do anything, and we, as an NGO, and the rest of the NGOs are not able to do anything by ourselves, but if we make a plan and engage in it together, it will make a big difference,” she said.

This article has been adapted from its original source.

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