“He is safer working at my shop then staying on the street in search for a job,” says a grocery shop owner in Beirut about a Syrian boy who earns around four dollars daily to support his mother and two younger sisters.
There are more than 100,000 child laborers in Lebanon, 35,000 of them being Lebanese. They work mainly in the industrial sector and agriculture.
The Syrian boy who unloads products and cleans the grocery shop tells Asharq Al-Awsat that he dreams of returning to his village and attend school.
“I will help my mother to work in agriculture in our land,” said the boy, who lost his father in the Syrian war. But he said that currently he has “no other option” but to earn around 30 dollars a week.
The shop owner, who is also Syrian, insists that he is protecting the boy by employing him because otherwise he would be left homeless.
His working conditions are no better than girls aged between 11 and 15 who start their shifts at 5:00 am at a chicken slaughterhouse, exposing themselves to sexual exploitation and diseases.
The executive head of Beyond Association, Maria Assi, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the rise in the number of child laborers in Lebanon is the direct result of growing poverty.
“In order to fight child labor, officials should resolve the problem of poverty, deteriorating economic conditions and the lack of awareness among parents, rather than seeking to resolve their repercussions,” she said.
Assi called on the international community to force the Lebanese government to protect child workers.
She said her association had a success story in the eastern town of Saadnayel where it agreed with the municipality to ban child labor and return the children to school.
“In the eastern Beka Valley and elsewhere, we are carrying out initiatives to stop children from working and proposing alternatives by encouraging their parents to work instead,” she said.
Assi added that Beyond also works on rehabilitating such children and reintegrate them into society.