Child Labor

Forced to flee their country, Syrian refugees in Lebanon are doing their best to survive against all odds. In normal situations, the father is the income provider, however in some cases, he may be unable to work due to injury, trauma, illness or the lack of job opportunities in the case of Syrian refugees now living in Lebanon.

Unfortunately, children are having to pay the heavy price, as parents are forced to have their children work on the streets, selling items such as toilet papers, chewing gum, in order to bring in income to the household.

Lebanon’s ‘Fun Bus’ offers kids a respite from street work

On a recent afternoon in a drab neighborhood in the west of Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, a brightly colored bus pulls up to the side of a street. A group of children selling chewing gum and tissues to drivers at a busy intersection quickly pack away their wares and gather at the roadside, eagerly waiting to hop on board. “They call to us here, they tell us to come and play,” says Abed, a 12-year-old refugee from Syria. “We love coming here.” For a few hours, Abed and his friends get the chance to be normal children again, playing and learning away from the dangers of the streets. The ‘Fun Bus’ initiative is jointly funded by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the European Union, and implemented by the Makhzoumi Foundation, a Lebanese NGO.

It provides support and recreation to street children in Lebanon, thereby reducing the amount of time they spend working outside. “We roam around Beirut, in all of its neighborhoods. We do psycho-social support activities, basic literacy and numeracy classes, and handcrafts,” explains Nadine Moussa from the Makhzoumi Foundation. “I don’t like being on the street.” The project, launched in 2018, has already reached hundreds of children working in Beirut, most of whom are from among the nearly 950,000 registered Syrian refugees currently living in the country. The youngsters are forced to work to help support their impoverished families, depriving them of the chance of a normal childhood and an education.

In a small classroom overlooking the Mediterranean sea, Syrian refugees are learning mathematics on portable computers. Just a few months ago, many of them were trying to make a living on the streets of Beirut, but now have a safe space where they can learn and be children again.

More than 150 refugees attend the center in the Ouzai neighborhood of the Lebanese capital, run by the NGO Borderless. Nestled in an underprivileged neighborhood of the city’s suburbs, the center was founded by two women, Lina Attar Ajami and Randa Ajami.

“We have the same family name but she’s Lebanese and I am a Syrian from Damascus,” explained Lina. “I came to Beirut in 2012 and saw all the efforts she was making with the kids, so I couldn’t but decide to join efforts with her.”

Unable to ignore the widespread problem of child labor among Syrian refugees in Beirut, the two women came together with one goal: to get as many children off the streets and into education as possible.

“We found that a lot of kids were not getting access to formal education and public schools,” explained Randa. More than half of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon do not currently attend formal schooling.

Places are often limited in the schools’ afternoon shifts dedicated to Syrian students, many children have missed years of education and struggle to catch up, and families are often forced to send their kids out to work to provide a vital source of earnings.

This photo essay has been produced for @UNHCR