Destitution drives Syrian refugee children to work
By Lyse Doucet - Chief International Correspondent
Published BBC World News - 25 September, 2013
The Syrian children stood at the side of the road just after first light, just as they were told.
At this ragged cluster of tents in the Bekaa Valley, they weren’t waiting for a school bus in the early morning cold.
An open back truck arrives just after 06:00 to take them to the fields to help bring in the harvest.
Across this fertile land of eastern Lebanon, Syria’s refugee children are increasingly doing the jobs of adult manual labourers.
"It’s a worrying phenomenon we see increasing by the day." Unicef’s regional director Maria Calivis told me. "The numbers of refugees are growing larger, and the people arriving are more destitute than ever.”
On the streets of the Lebanese capital Beirut, refugee children can be seen selling trinkets or shining shoes to bring in some money to support their families. But organised child labour is a new and troubling problem that underscores Syria’s deepening humanitarian crisis.
“The invisible is becoming visible,” affirmed Ms Calivis.
Dozens of children dressed in plastic sandals and thin shirts or dresses shiver in the dawn chill. They cling to metal bars as they’re thrown back and forth in the truck normally used to transport livestock which ferries them to a nearby farm where courgettes are ripe for picking.
This pint-sized gang of workers swarms into the lush green fields as the Syrian middleman, who organises the labour on this Lebanese farm, shouts at them to get to work.
"My hands hurt," confesses 14-year-old Abdul Aziz as he holds up his grimy hands and points to the prickly stalks. Even in his pain, he manages a shy smile.
In other fields, where children have been harvesting crops such as grapes or potatoes, the work is even more difficult, and dangerous.
Aid officials told me of seeing children cut themselves with knives or run in fear from powerful combine harvesters that churn the soil.
"It’s a bad situation," says Tarek Mazloum of the Lebanese charity Beyond as he watches little children struggle with big buckets of fat green courgettes.
"Each family consists of six, seven or eight children and all of them work, from three or four years old," he explains. His charity helps provide for Syrian refugee families.
He shakes his head, visibly upset. “But we can’t stop it. If the children don’t work, the family would be destroyed. They wouldn’t eat.”
“It is up to all of us to find a solution,” says Unicef’s Maria Calivis. “Children should be at school and not at work.”
But when Lebanon’s public schools opened this week, there simply wasn’t enough space for all the young Syrians.
UN officials say there are now about 400,000 Syrians of school age but only 100,000 extra places.
To read the complete article, please visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-24229079
To learn how UNICEF is getting invloved: http://www.unicef.org/emergencies/syria/
To follow UNICEF in the news with regards to Syria: https://storify.com/UNICEF/syrian-crisis
Photo caption: Syrian refugee children on their way to work in vegetable fields in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley
Photo credit: BBC