10 priority minimums to protect children in Lebanon in 2020 and beyond
UNICEF Lebanon recommends in this article specific measures to promote some level of protection to children and Lebanon’s poorest households in 2020 and beyond
This article written by UNICEF Lebanon Chief of Social Policy, Sarah Hague, and Deputy Representative, Violet Speek-Warnery, has been published in English by The Daily Star (read here), Arabic by Al Nahar (read here) and French by L’orient le jour (read here)
Lebanon has entered a year in which it is increasingly likely that the most serious effects of the economic and financial crisis will unfold. Long before this crisis began to advance in mid-2019, the country faced already high levels of poverty and inequality – according to Lebanon’s 2016 household survey over half of the population, if working at all, survive on less than the minimum wage and 2 out of 5 Lebanese children already lived in poverty. The wealthiest 1% of Lebanese held 25% of national wealth. Now, on top of that, UNICEF sees that the crisis is bringing an unprecedented increase in unemployment, inflation, and a rising strain on overstretched basic social services.
But we also know from past economic crises and recessions around the world that a key to recovery is to protect the poorest and to maintain investments in children and young people. If human capital development is protected – the learning, health and protection of children and young people – then they can grow up to not only achieve their own potential but to support the future development of the country, without which, Lebanon will not have a foundation for recovery. Children and young people cannot wait – reducing investments in their healthcare, education, and social protection now (on top of pre-existing challenges of quality and coverage) would not only threaten child rights but have irreversible impacts on their future wellbeing as well as on Lebanon’s development for decades to come.
To ensure that the wellbeing and future potential of Lebanon’s children and young people are not undermined – to their detriment, but also to that of the country’s – UNICEF Lebanon has assessed the evolving situation and outlined a top ten of fundamental public investments to protect based on the 2020 Budget Proposal as well as vital actions to take:
- Maintain 2019 public spending and capacity in healthcare, education and social welfare, providing the funds on time and identifying concrete ways to make efficiency gains so as to expand access.
- Expand the social safety net: First, scale-up the food voucher to all households in the Government’s National Poverty Targeting Programme and second, provide financial support to the poorest for other expenditures beyond just food to promote children’s wellbeing. This latter support could cost approximately 30 million USD.
- Support Primary Health Centres and dispensaries to provide free acute and/or essential drugs for all children and provide free immunization to all children based on the Ministry of Public Health’s circular 47, 17 May 2014, that stipulates that vaccinations are free at Primary Healthcare facilities when provided by a registered nurse. In addition, accessible and quality healthcare for newborns, adolescents and pregnant and lactating women must be further prioritised.
- Increase the number of Safe and Inclusive Schools under the Ministry of Education and Higher Education that now successfully welcome children with special needs and disabilities in a violence-free and child-centred environment. In addition, reduce repetition of children repeating the same grades and prioritise retention support programmes in 2020.
- Design and implement a transition plan to support children living in residential care to be reintegrated in their families where possible, including shifting support toward families themselves. This can include enrolling all supported families who are eligible into the National Poverty Targeting Programme.
- Maintain budget allocations to Social Development Centres (SDCs) proposed in the draft 2020 budget at 25 million USD. SDCs need support to immediately scale-up their outreach to provide social welfare services to increasing numbers of families who are becoming vulnerable.
- Support adolescent and youth skills by expanding vocational and skills programmes as well as those designed to create a bridge into the labour market – such as internships – to ensure the skillset necessary for eventual economic recovery
- Prioritise the development of the National Social Protection Policy that began in 2019 so as to develop a system of programmes that can provide social assistance to those who are negatively affected by the crisis.
- Support to the equitable reform of the tax system is needed. It is vital to review and reform how Lebanon raises revenue – from income, corporations, and wealth – so the burden falls less disproportionately on the poorest and is collected more effectively and efficiently.
- And finally, while the regular supply of water and electricity is threatened by the abrupt drop in bill payment, it will be necessary to identify longer term solutions in making tariff structures more equitable and collection more efficient.
While there are also immediate priorities in relation to the political and economic situation, these have been clearly highlighted elsewhere. Instead, these ten minimums go beyond that, to outline a few of the most basic measures that UNICEF believes need to be urgently in place to promote some level of protection to children and Lebanon’s poorest households in 2020 and beyond. While UNICEF is already actively supporting the Government of Lebanon and a wide range of partners to advance many of these priorities building on important work that has already been made, there is immediate potential to protect national spending against these areas in the 2020 budget before it is finalized – most importantly, but most difficult, is to find efficiencies in current spending. As the negative impact continues to unfold on the wellbeing of families, their children and Lebanon’s future development, immediate attention is needed to ensure that Lebanon’s children and its poorest households get first call on limited national resources.
 Carnegie, No Country for Poor Men: How Lebanon’s Debt Has Exacerbated Inequality, N. Salti, 2019
 A Recovery for All: Rethinking Socio-Economic Policies for Children and Poor Households, Ortiz et al, UNICEF 2012
 Currently less than 1 in 4 households in the NPTP receive the food voucher
 Based on UNICEF calculations
 UNICEF research shows that families, even when attending public instead of private clinics, say that they cannot afford what should be free services.
 Including competency-based vocational training, life and digital skills, numeracy and literacy, internship and mentorship programmes as well as innovation, entrepreneur and small and medium-sized enterprise development.