On Thursday, 28 June 2018, Professor and Chair of the Environmental Health Department at the Faculty of Health Sciences at the American University of Beirut (AUB), Dr. Rima Habib, presented the results of an AUB study on child labor among Syrian refugees in Lebanon, in a meeting held at the Ministry of Labor in Beirut, Lebanon. The presentation was attended by members of the National Committee for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor, including representatives from the Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Education and Higher Education, The European Regional Development and Protection Programme (RDPP), the International Labor Organization (ILO), Association of Lebanese Industrialists, the Workers' Union, Save the Children, FAO, US Embassy, and UNICEF. In addition, the Director General of the Ministry of Labor Georges Ayda and the Advisor to the Minister of Labor Rabih Kabbara attended the meeting.
“This study represents one of the largest studies to be carried out on Syrian child laborers in Lebanon", said Dr. Habib. Through its objective and scientific findings, this study provides a solid framework for all stakeholders and decision makers enabling them to draw evidence-based policies and make informed resolutions in order to change the current status-quo, and eventually reduce and hopefully diminish child labor in the Bekaa valley".
At the presentation, Dr. Habib shared study findings and led a fruitful discussion with stakeholders about the future of working Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. While the full results of the study are still pending publication, it can be said that the findings depict a stark reality faced by Syrian refugee families in Lebanon and indicate that without intervention, working Syrian refugee children in Lebanon are at risk of becoming a lost generation. The National Action Plan for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor by 2020 was adopted by the government of Lebanon in 2013, and amended in 2017 to specifically include Syrian refugee child laborers.
The study was commissioned in the winter of 2015 by a group of UN organizations including UNICEF, ILO, FAO, and the Lebanese Ministry of Labor in order to assess the conditions facing child laborers in agricultural settings among the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon.
Between 2012 and 2015, the number of UNHCR-registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon rose exponentially, from just over 9,000, to over 1 million. Lebanon now hosts the largest number of refugees per capita of any country in the world, and according to the UNHCR, the Bekaa Valley is the area which hosts the highest concentration of Syrian refugees in the country. The trenchant poverty experienced by many Syrian families drives them to use several coping strategies, which can include engaging their children in income-generating activities.
Prior research indicated that as many as 180,000 Syrian refugee children may currently be working in Lebanon, and that half of all Syrian refugee children in Lebanon are not attending school.
Reports have also suggested that the prevalence of child labor among Syrian refugees in Lebanon may be at its highest in the Bekaa Valley, primarily in agriculture, an occupation that may pose many hazards to working children's health and well-being. Taking the form of a household survey, the AUB study was carried out in the summer and fall of 2017.
The survey was implemented in the informal tented settlements in the Bekaa Valley and included interviews/data on 4,377 working Syrian refugee children. The research project was intended to assess the living and working conditions of Syrian refugee children in order to help the government of Lebanon produce evidence-based policies and initiatives that reduce the prevalence of child labor and increase school enrollment.