For the Sake of the Children

Monday, September 26, 2022
Opinion by Jean AbiNader

It is saddening to assess the situation related to children in Lebanon. Two recent studies from UNICEF (UN International Children’s Emergency Fund) and the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS) detail how a veritable lost generation has resulted from the pandemic and the Beirut Post blast which exacerbated the dislocation caused by the economic demise of the country.

Twice a year, UNICEF carries out an in-depth analysis of both Lebanese and refugee children. Called the Child-Focused Rapid Assessment (CFRA), its most recent finding from this summer found that 84% of households could not cover the basic necessities and that one in four children had recently gone to bed hungry. With jobs evaporating and the value of the currency barely recognizable, household debt was on the rise.

As the report insisted, “Lebanon is not in temporary recession. We are stuck, deep, in a ‘deliberate depression,’ which comes at enormous cost. The rising vulnerability of children in Lebanon and the multidimensional attacks on their childhoods, their dreams, and on the intimate bonds with their families, will be irreversible.” Of the 300,000 young people included in the study, 100,000 are Lebanese, the rest being Palestinians and Syrians.

“It is hard, three years into Lebanon’s crisis, to think of a more alarming indicator of the country’s proximity to complete failed state status than the inability of parents to provide basic rights to their children. Or perhaps, no consequence of the crisis is more representative of the unravelling of the country’s social contract than the breakdown of relationships between children and their parents.” Children and parents are both suffering, unable to marshal resources ranging from medication and transportation, to foodstuffs, clothing, and education.

Save the Children reports that despite attending classes, more than 700,000 children are at risk of never returning to a classroom due to rising poverty. More than 30% of households have cut their spending on education, reflecting a massive shift in which families upend the norm of enrolling their children in private schools – now unable to do so for financial reasons – sending them instead to gravely underfunded public schools with sporadic teachers’ strikes protesting a lack of salaries, inadequate transportation allowances, and poorly maintained facilities. Increased fuel costs hinder school attendance overall and many students are forced to study without textbooks, learning materials, or computers.

In the refugee camps, this has not only led to high rates of absence but some families’ choice “to marry off their daughters early and send the older brothers to work, and the young boys are given the opportunity to get their education.”

Additional UN data shows that more than 2 million Lebanese people – about 57% of the population – are now living in vulnerable situations with three in every four households – or 77% not having enough money to buy food. This is in addition to the 1.8 million refugees and migrants living in Lebanon, including 700,000 Syrian refugee children already facing dire conditions. About 99% of Syrian households do not have enough money to buy food.

The rising cost of food will likely exacerbate nutrition and health needs across Lebanon. Without urgent action, children will continue to bear the brunt of Lebanon’s worsening poverty crisis with more than 200,000 children already suffering from malnutrition and 7% of all children stunted, an indicator of chronic malnutrition.

Between the dismal performance in the quality of life indicators and the continued social, psychological, and health tolls borne by the children, there is real fear that this generation is indeed already lost.

As the LCPS analysis concludes, “The very foundations of society that make us who we are, that bind us to one another, are falling apart. There are no short-stop measures to managing Lebanon’s blackhole of a depression—only the ever-urgent need for decisive action to stabilize the crisis and set the country towards a sustainable and just recovery. If not for us, at least, for our children’s sake.”

To read the full LCPS report, you can do so through the following hyperlink: The Critical Situation of Youth in Lebanon: After the Point of No Return and Organizing for Change.

For the UNICEF report, you can access their full publication here: Deprived Childhoods: Child Poverty in Crisis-Wracked Lebanon.