Children in Lebanon lose hope as the economic crisis hinders families from providing basic needs
A new report and research by UNICEF shows the dire reality for children in Lebanon
Baha’a, at just 13 years old, slowly walks down into the dark of the mechanic’s pit of his uncle’s workshop to check the underneath of a car.
“If I had hope I would have said it a long time ago, I have no hope in anything anymore,” Baha’a says, sniffling back tears.
The economic crisis which has plagued Lebanon now for three years, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and the devastating Beirut Port explosion has turned children’s lives upside down.
“Child poverty can have lifelong consequences, affecting children’s ability to reach their full potential”
As a new report by UNICEF, Deprived Childhoods, highlights, Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian families across the country have been plunged into poverty, deeply affecting children’s health, welfare, education and breaking down family relationships.
“Besides the immediate impact on children’s well-being, child poverty can have lifelong consequences, affecting children’s ability to reach their full potential and perpetuating a cycle of poverty and disadvantage,” says Edouard Beigbeder, the UNICEF Representative in Lebanon.
Realising that his parents’ salaries are no longer enough to provide for the family, Baha’a made the decision to work with his uncle to help pay his way, joining the one in five Lebanese families across the country who are now sending a child to work in order to bring further income into the home.
“If I had hope I would have said it a long time ago, I have no hope in anything anymore”
Considering how aware children are of the economic situation and the deprivation they are facing, their hope for the future has been depleted and their mental health severely deteriorated.
As the UNICEF research shows, families in Lebanon are experiencing multidimensional poverty due to widespread unemployment, meaning not only are income levels not adequate, families aren’t able to provide for children’s basic needs.
The lives of families have vastly changed, as even those who used to be considered middle class now struggle with expenses which are greater than their monthly income.
Due to constant inflation and increasing prices of basic goods, coupled with high unemployment rates, 84 per cent of households UNICEF recently spoke to do not have enough money to cover necessities, resulting in 23% of children going to bed hungry.
A huge 70% of households have to borrow money to buy food, while some are forced to sell their furniture in order to feed families.
Baha’a feels he carries the burdens of his parents, and knows he can’t vent to them about how he feels, instead confiding in his cat, who he calls his only friend.
“When I come home from work, tired … I tell her everything that’s bothering me and even though she can’t reply like a human, as long as she’s listening to me, I can express to her my feelings.”
“When I come home from work, tired … I tell my cat everything that’s bothering me. I can express my feelings even though she can’t reply.”
Khetam can understand what her son Baha’a is feeling, and feels great sadness as she doesn’t want him to be in the same pain as her.
Due to the economic situation, family relationships are breaking down, as the caregiver, or parents can no longer provide what the child needs let alone desires.
Children’s respect for parents is fading and mothers and fathers across Lebanon are left feeling guilty.
“If you see Baha’a working with his uncle you’d think he’s a man … eventually we won’t have a say anymore ... he’s already saying “I can do what I want,”” Khetam explains.
“As a mother life is extremely hard, there’s always the feeling of guilt,” she says.
“As a mother life is extremely hard, there’s always the feeling of guilt”
Her husband Mohamed adds that he feels extreme exhaustion and that he is deficient as a father.
“Our hands feel tied and shackled… If we can’t get out of this poor living situation, what will happen to my boy? That’s what I think about as a father,” Mohamed says.
There is a strong sense of frustration among parents in having to prioritise what they can provide for their children.
As family structure breaks down, UNICEF research found 36% of caregivers feel less tolerant of their children and treat them more harshly.
“Our hands feel tied… If we can’t get out of this poor situation, what will happen to my boy? That’s what I think about as a father”
Lebanon as a whole has seen a rise in violence since the economic collapse, as people across the country are grappling with how to survive.
This in turn has also negatively impacted children, considering the violence often pours out onto the streets, between communities and sometimes turns to armed conflict, hindering the ability of children, particularly young girls, to play outside.
As access to social services in Lebanon is limited, UNICEF has been supporting vulnerable children impacted by the crisis.
Some ways that UNICEF has helped children and families respond to the economic collapse has been through cash grants supporting households, procuring medicines, subsidising treatment for acutely malnourished children and providing micronutrient supplements, supporting water and education services, as well as supporting the government to create strategies and law protecting children.
But financial reforms and the creation of employment opportunities as part of an inclusive economic recovery is crucial to address such child deprivation in Lebanon, in order for children like Baha’a to look once again to the future.