Not such a happy Labor Day for child workers in Lebanon

Published May 1st, 2017 - 02:41 GMT
Supporters of the Lebanese Communist party take part in an International Workers' Day rally in Beirut (ANWAR AMRO/AFP)
Supporters of the Lebanese Communist party take part in an International Workers' Day rally in Beirut (ANWAR AMRO/AFP)

May 1 is International Workers’ Day. The 130-year-old tradition is celebrated across the Middle East, from Palestine to Bahrain, from Syria to Egypt.

However, in Lebanon this year Labor Day has a darker edge. Playing host to 1.5 million Syrian refugees and with an ailing economy, it is not surprising few of Beirut’s employees feel much like celebrating today.

While protesters took to the streets of the capital on Monday to noisily demand their workers’ rights, it is those laborers without a voice whose grievances are greatest.

Up to ten per cent of Lebanese children are employed in dangerous jobs, the Arabic language channel of the Turkish national public broadcaster TRT reported today.

The percentage is even higher among their Syrian counterparts, around 35 per cent of whom work in “workshops, factories and hard labor” according to the same report.

Last year the International Rescue Committee (IRC) identified around 1,500 Syrian refugee children working up to 10-hour days on Lebanon’s streets selling CDs, flowers, gum and tissues. The IRC survey also indicated that 60 per cent of these young workers had experienced violence while at work.

These bleak statistics shed light on the consequences of the severe restrictions placed on Syrians taking refuge in neighboring Lebanon.

Only 20 per cent of Syrian families in Lebanon hold valid residency permits for all adult members according to the IRC, and in 2015 the World Food Programme reported a quarter of households had only a single worker or fewer for every five dependent non workers.

The result is that a shocking 70 per cent of Syrians in Lebanon live in poverty.

It is in this context that many families feel they have no choice but to send out their children to earn some much-needed cash.

Mutasim, a 13-year-old mechanic told TRT that he had hoped to pursue his education, “however poverty and want prematurely pushed me to work, in order to help [my family] with $200 a month.”

“Workers’ day means nothing to me,” he said.

The International Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Lebanon, enshrines children’s right to “be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health..."

Here’s hoping that this Labor Day it is this “workers’ right” that takes priority in Lebanon going forward.


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