Since the summer of 2019, Lebanon has witnessed an accelerating economic collapse, exacerbated by the horrific Beirut port explosion on the 4th of March. The Lebanese currency has lost 90% of its value against the dollar, while more than half of the population lives below the poverty line, and the country that lacks foreign currencies suffers from a shortage in several sectors, especially medicines, fuel and others. Furthermore, the power outage crisis has further triggered public anger, while electricity rationing is up to 22 hours a day.
All this has left many Lebanese suffering from poverty, despite numerous initiatives in favour of the poor. Since 2019, poverty has been increasing owing to declining economic activity and deteriorating political stability. Overlapping shocks have put the exchange rate under enormous pressure, depreciating the currency, worsening inflation, shrinking purchasing power and constraining access to saving due to the financial crisis. These shocks, combined, have led to a low standard of living for the Lebanese and non-Lebanese populations and widespread deprivation among them.
This deprivation is manifold, perhaps the most important of which is the denial of health care and access to medicines, services, education, employment and housing. A family is classified as suffering from multidimensional poverty if it suffers from one or more aspects of deprivation, even if it is not financially poor (according to the ESCWA definition of multidimensional poverty).
A family deprived of electricity, for example, can be classified as poor according to the concept of multidimensional poverty, despite its financial capabilities that entitle it to participate in a private generator of electricity if that is available. The same classification applies to families who are unable to obtain medicines, despite their financial ability to purchase them, if available. When measuring the deprivations in Lebanon, the multidimensional poverty rate, according to ESCWA figures, is 82 per cent.
In November 2013, Lebanon pledged to eliminate the worst forms of child labour by 2016, through the enactment of a national action plan. As part of efforts to support this plan, the International Labour
Organization (ILO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and Save the Children International (SCI) commissioned this study, upon the request of Lebanon’s Ministry of Labour (MOL). Accordingly, the
study’s main purpose is to assess the magnitude and profile of children living and working on the streets–– also known as street-based children (SBC)2 ––as well as formulate evidence-based and actionable policy recommendations.
The prevalence of children living or working in the streets poses a persistent challenge that straddles larger socioeconomic and political issues in Lebanon. The recent influx of refugees from Syria, many of whom are children, has certainly exacerbated this problem but is by no means the core cause or consequence of children living or working on the streets.
Instead, intricate webs of economic, social, cultural, psychological and institutional factors, which are both current and long-standing, constitute the root causes. Nevertheless, this study identified four main driving factors that cause children to live or work on the streets of Lebanon: social exclusion, the vulnerability of households, the influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon, as well as organized crime and exploitation of children.
As such, future reforms aimed at tackling the SBC issue need to take these factors into account and also ensure that the rights of all children—regardless of nationality, creed, social status or geographical location—are protected.
UN expert warns of ‘failing State’
In Geneva (May 11, 2022) – the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Olivier de Schutter, considered in his report that the destructive actions of political and financial leaders in Lebanon are responsible for pushing most of the country’s population into poverty, in violation of international human rights law. The mission’s report to Lebanon follows fact-finding and investigation into the root causes and effects of the country’s worst economic and financial crisis in history.
“Impunity, corruption, and structural inequality have all been integrated into a corrupt political and economic system designed to fail those at the bottom, but it does not have to be the case,” “the political establishment has been aware of the looming catastrophe for years but has done little to avert it.” This is what Mr. Olivier de Schutter said, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
De Schutter added that there is a serious lack of strong social protection mechanisms. “In the current situation, it is a system that protects the rich while letting poor families fend for themselves,” he said. Public services, including electricity, education, and health care, have been decimated, with a state largely subsidizing the private provision of these services. More than a quarter of public education expenditures go to the private sector, which exacerbates inequality, does not lead to better education, and leads to higher dropout rates among children from poor families. “More than half of the families reported that their children had to skip meals, and hundreds of thousands of children were out of school,” he added. “If the situation does not improve immediately, an entire generation of children will be sacrificed.”
The UN expert called on the next government to commit to improving its human rights record in all areas by reducing inequality, fighting corruption and impunity, building strong and resilient social protection, education and health care systems, and placing the public interest above the private interest.