Child labor in Lebanon: A breakdown

Lebanon has the highest proportion of working kids aged 10 to 17 in the world, with over 100,000 children in the country who are victims of child labor and illicit trafficking. Rights groups say better coverage of the often misreported story could help inform people about the realities of child labor.
Lebanon Child labor
A Lebanese child works at a blacksmith's workshop in the northern port city of Tripoli. June 2009. © Getty Images.

BEIRUT, July 6, 2009 (MENASSAT) — In Lebanon, there are over 100,000 children who are victims of child labor and illicit trade, vulnerable to exploitation and working in hazardous conditions. Lebanon has the highest proportion of working kids aged 10 to 17 in the world.

Omar is a 14 year-old shoe shiner from Syria. His hands, face and clothes are covered in dirt and he can sometimes be seen squatting in a corner on the sidewalk with a look of deep sadness.

Normally, he wanders up and down the different posh neighborhoods of Beirut, sometimes for eleven hours a day carrying a shoe cleaning kit while begging for clients.

“The police harass me everyday because they know I’m Syrian and because I’m poor,” says Omar. “I was offered a job so I left my village to try and provide a better life for my family.”

Not only do the police harass Omar but, he says, the Lebanese do as well.

Children like Omar wander the streets of Beirut all day long. Some wait at major intersections in order to beg for change through the windows of passing cars. 

What's more, these children are likely giving their daily earnings directly to adults involved in trafficking children in a larger web of child exploitation.

“We cannot say for sure without understanding the full reasons for why a particular child is on the street,” says World Vision’s Trafficking and Gender Officer, Carla Lewis.

“However, if an adult is moving these children to the streets, obliging them to beg and taking their money at the end of the day, then this is a clear case of trafficking – and this is definitely a reality for many children begging on the streets.”

Trafficking is much broader than the stereotypical view portrayed by mass media of people being kidnapped, trafficked across borders and forced into sex work.

According to Lewis, most cases begin when traffickers promise better jobs to people in desperate financial situations. Then they later find themselves in an exploitative and dangerous job with little or no pay such as in factories, the construction industry or begging.

“Basically you can break this definition down into three components: the act of trafficking (recruitment, transportation, etc), the means by which a person is trafficked (coercion, deception, abduction, etc.), and the purpose of trafficking (exploitation),” adds Lewis.

“Put simply, child trafficking is the movement of a child, within a country or across borders for exploitative purposes.”

Earlier this month, police uncovered a child trafficking gang in Lebanon after a mayor, his wife, a midwife and a doctor at hospital in the Bekaa valley were arrested for selling newly-born children.

Sources said the ring often paid birth moms $500 for bringing the baby to term.

There is no specific law prohibiting the sale and trafficking of children. The Lebanese Penal Code, however, specifically makes the abduction or taking of a child a criminal offense punished by three months to three years imprisonment or by temporary hard labor if the child is under thirteen years of age, or was taken or abducted by force or by ploy.

Labour Law

Protective laws for children date back to 1946.

The Lebanese Labor Law of 1946 basically divides children into two categories - those between fourteen and eighteen years and those under fourteen.

The law categorically prohibits the employment of children who have not completed thirteen years and requires a medical certificate proving that a child above thirteen is fit for the job he is hired to perform.

In certain types of work, deemed harmful or detrimental, the law prohibits employing any child under the age of sixteen years. In addition to other restrictions, no child can be employed for more than six hours per day and should be given at least one-hour rest whenever the total working hours exceed four per day.

In 1995, Medical students at the American University of Beirut interviewed a total of 69 street boys and four street girls working in Beirut.

The work of these children ranged from selling cigarettes, newspapers, chewing gum, collecting or scavenging garbage, and begging.

Of those interviewed, 67 percent started working between 7 and 15 years and came from the outskirts of Beirut or from the northern district of Tripoli (50.7%) or from shacks or camps (49.3%). 49 percent were identified as gypsies, 33 percent as Syrians and 18 percent as Lebanese.

Around 73 percent of those interviewed in the AUB study came from families with two parents, 5 percent from divorced parents and 18 percent were orphans. They worked 10-11 hours per day, and their take-home earnings amounted to about 69 percent after a trafficker's cut.

According to figures provided by the International Labor Organization (ILO), about 35 percent of the youth in the north of Lebanon work, 26 percent in Mount Lebanon, 13 percent in Bekaa, 11 percent in the south, six percent in Nabatieh, and eight percent in Beirut.

Most children are employed in artisan or small workshops (55 percent), 17 percent work in private occupations or are self-employment, 14 percent in unskilled labor, and nine percent work with machinery.

World Vision is currently conducting research into the nature of child trafficking in Lebanon in the hope that the findings will shed some light on this under-reported segment of society. The organization recently held workshops for civil society and lawmakers on the various ways in which trafficking may occur.

“Informed and accurate media coverage of trafficking acts to not only educate the public on the different ways in which trafficking may occur, but also adds to the momentum of civil society’s efforts to lobby the government to address the issue,” adds Lewis of World Vision.