By Robin Gomes
Children in Lebanon are bearing the brunt of one of the world’s worst economic collapses in recent times, says a study by the United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF.
The report released on Thursday says that series of mutually reinforcing crises, including a devastating recession, have left families and children in Lebanon in a dire situation, affecting just about every aspect of their lives, with few resources and virtually no access to social support.
Child labour, marriage
“With no improvement in sight, more children than ever before are going to bed hungry in Lebanon. Children’s health, education and their very futures are affected as prices are skyrocketing and unemployment continues to increase. More and more families are being forced to resort to negative coping measures, including sending their children to work in often dangerous and hazardous conditions, marrying off their young daughters or selling their belongings”, said Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF Representative in Lebanon.
The country is going through one of the world's most severe economic crises in modern times, which is having serious social repercussions. According to the latest World Bank report, Lebanon’s economic and financial crisis is likely to rank in the top 10, possibly top 3, most severe crises episodes globally since the mid-nineteenth century.
Lebanon’s woes, which intensified in late 2019, is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by a post-civil war political class that has accumulated debt and done little to encourage local industries, forcing the country to rely on imports for almost everything.
With the Lebanese pound losing 95% of its purchase power, half of the population is believed to be living below the poverty line.
Facts and figures
UNICEF’s survey has unveiled some very grim facts about Lebanon’s current economic and social malaise.
- More than 30 per cent of children in the country went to bed hungry and skipped meals in June.
- 77 per cent of households do not have enough food or enough money to buy food. The figure in Syrian refugee households, is as high as 99 percent.
- 60 per cent of households have to buy food on credit or borrow money.
- 30 per cent of children are not receiving the primary health care they need.
- 76 per cent of households said they are affected by the massive increase in medication prices.
- 1 out of 10 children has been sent to work.
- 40 per cent of children are from families where no one has work and 77 per cent are from families that do not receive any social assistance.
- 15 percent of families stopped their children’s education.
- 80 per cent of caregivers said their children had difficulties concentrating on their studies at home – which might indicate hunger or mental distress.
Lebanon’s precarious situation is exacerbated by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. While the 1.5 million Syrian refugees are the most hard-hit, the number of Lebanese people in need of support is growing rapidly.
Pope’s Lebanon initiative
UNICEF’s report on Lebanon came the day Pope Francis convoked the country’s heads of Christians Churches and communities to the Vatican for a Day of Prayer and Reflection. The theme of the Day is, "The Lord God has plans for peace. Together for Lebanon." The purpose is to rally the various Churches behind the country in this critical situation and to implore on its people the gift of peace and stability. The summit started with a visit and prayer inside St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, followed by three closed-door meetings. The Day was to conclude with an ecumenical prayer service and a speech by Pope Francis at 6 pm.
Lebanon’s crisis came to a head when a massive explosion on August 4 2020 at a fertilizer storage facility in Beirut port tore through the city and reopened the country’s old wounds. The blast killed at least 190 people, injured over 6,000, caused over US$10 billion in property damage, and left some 300,000 people homeless.
Hariri was designated as Prime Minister in October 2020 but he has been at loggerheads with President Michel Aoun over cabinet positions and has failed to form a government so far.
Safety nets for children
In its report, UNICEF reinforces its call to the national authorities to implement a major expansion of social protection measures, to ensure access to quality education for every child, and to strengthen both primary healthcare and child protection services.
Mokuo said, “Determined, concerted action is critical to mitigating the suffering, particularly among the most vulnerable, who are trapped in a spiral of poverty.” “Lebanon cannot afford children to be nutritionally deprived, out of school, in poor health and at risk of abuse, violence and exploitation. Children are an investment, the ultimate investment, in a nation’s future,” she added. (Source: UNICEF)