Street children becoming a new problem on Lebanon’s streets

Street children becoming a new problem on Lebanon’s streets – Feature
Posted : Tue, 18 Mar 2008 02:14:02 GMT

Beirut – Street children are becoming a common sight in Beirut, some begging at traffic intersections, others wiping off dirty car windows, and others just hanging around with searching eyes that clearly show the kind of life they are living. Zeina, 10, is one of the unfortunate ones, who due to family circumstances are forced to try to sell some chewing gum before nightfall so she can return home with something to feed her sister, brother and sick mother.

Zeina, with her green eyes, taps on a car window wither dirty little hands, begging to sell her chewing gum before nightfall. "So please buy one, I have to sell them all in order to buy bread for my family," Zeina pleads, with tears in her eyes.

The little blonde girl said she has mainly lived on the streets since she was eight to help her family survive.

"I have been begging, selling roses, chewing gum, or washing windows since I was eight," she said. "My father left us because my mother got sick."

Zeina is only one of thousands of children who try to eke out a living on the streets of Lebanon’s cities these days. A few of the street children are forced to beg by their parents, while the rest are victims of some notorious gangs who push them towards flesh trades and slavery.

According to Khawla Mattar of the International Labour Organization, "the number of children working on the streets is difficult to determine. Anyone who gives you a definite number would be fooling you."

One social affairs official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the ministry plays a limited role in combating the trend.

"Our role is preventive," the official said. "We try to mingle with the children and attract them to our centres for recreation and education, rather than leaving them on the streets where they are subject to drugs and crime."

He added: "When street children are caught by the police and taken to police stations, our representatives work on moving them to specialised institutes."

Although no official statistics exist on the number of street children in Lebanon, the Lebanese Evangelical Organization has more than 100 children under its protection, said the group’s head John Iter.

Iter said 15 per cent of street children in Lebanon are Lebanese, while 55 per cent are foreigners and the remaining 30 per cent are of mixed Lebanese-foreign parentage.

The phenomenon of street children "has become one of the most important mounting social problems in Lebanon," said Elie Mikhael, secretary general of the Higher Council for Childhood.

"According to UNICEF and the National Labour Organization, street children can be divided into two categories: those in the street still in full contact with their parents and street children who don’t have anyone and are totally dependent on themselves," he said.

"Certain parents send their children off to work to raise money. Extreme, violent measures ranging from beatings to sexual abuse are taken (if) the child refuses to go or deliver the earnings of the day," Mikhael said.

He added that parents’ pressure to make money was another reason for the increase in the number of street children during the hard economic times prevailing in Lebanon.

Mikhael said social organization cannot only work alone, but they need the help of the government with funds and centres in order to reduce the evolving problem.

But until a solution is found, small children like Zeina remain the sole bread-winners in their families, amid fears that one day they will fall in the hands of the wrong people.

Issue of street children ‘one of most important mounting social problems’

Issue of street children ‘one of most important mounting social problems’
By Farah Aridi
Special to The Daily Star
Tuesday, July 31, 2007

BEIRUT: The number of street children in Lebanon is rising, and a range of measures need to be taken to combat the problem, according to participants at a workshop in Beirut.

Although no official statistics exist on the number of street children in Lebanon, the Lebanese Evangelical Organization has 60 children under its protection, said the group’s head John Iter on Monday. Iter said 15 percent of street children in Lebanon are Lebanese, while 55 percent are foreigners and the remaining 30 percent are of mixed Lebanese-foreign parentage.

Iter made his statements during a three-day workshop at the An-Nahar newspaper’s training center in Beirut, organized by the Social Affairs Ministry and the Higher Council for Childhood so concerned groups could exchange views with journalists on the approach to street children in the media.

The phenomenon of street children “has become one of the most important mounting social problems in Lebanon,” said secretary general of the Higher Council for Childhood Elie Mikhael.

“According to UNICEF and the National Labor Organization, street children can be divided into two categories: those in the street still in full contact with their parents and street children who don’t have anyone and are totally dependent on themselves,” he said.

There are different reasons that drive or force children to resort to the streets, he said. The reasons include the need for freedom, a wish to escape from parental pressures, violence or indifference and the search for trust and responsibility.

“Certain parents send their children off to work to raise money. Extreme, violent measures ranging from beatings to sexual abuse are taken [if] the child refuses to go or deliver the earnings of the day,” Mikhael said, adding parents’ pressure to make money as another reason for the increase in the number of street children during the hard economic times prevailing in Lebanon.

Aside from the daily needs such as food, clothes and shelter, Mikhael said it was important to provide a child with a suitable environment for a decent life.

“The children on the street are the most vulnerable to going astray, getting raped or abused, as well as manipulated,” he said. “Understanding and counseling is desperately needed to eliminate their problematic psycho-social state.”

In the presence of poor families unable to support their children, Mikhael announced that the council wished to reinforce family ties and renew missing links. “Sometimes we provide financial aid as well,” he added.

Mikhael announced the introduction to Lebanon of the foster family, where street children are temporarily placed until their parents are able to care for them or until a family adopts them permanently.

“Though it is still not that popular in Lebanon, foster families do solve lots of problems,” he said.

“Every intervention is carried out according to specific cases that do not resemble each other in any way,” he added.

The Higher Council for Childhood also urged stricter border security and free elementary education. “Most of the children found in the streets are non-Lebanese citizens who have been brought into the country through trafficking,” Mikhael added.

Rita Karam from the Higher Council for Childhood demanded that street children be given their rights with full consideration for their different circumstances and environments.

Recreational and educational programs in sync with the children’s needs and circumstances are needed. “Lebanon has already signed the International Treaty for Children’s Rights, which mandates the implementation of all articles stated in it,” Karam added.

One of the first barriers to addressing the issue is the fact that many street children have no identification cards, Karam said. “Having no identification documents makes it harder for these children to be received by organizations or obtain the least of their rights,” she said.

LEBANON: Government could do more to tackle child labour

LEBANON: Government could do more to tackle child labour


Photo: Hugh Macleod/IRIN
The Social Affairs Ministry has pledged US$200,000 to the Home of Hope, but Lebanon’s lengthy political crisis has crippled the government and hugely delayed the delivery of much-needed cash

BEIRUT, 18 July 2007 (IRIN) – Abdullah lives like no eight year-old-boy should. Two years ago, the youngster from Raqqa, a town in the north of Syria on the banks of the River Euphrates, travelled to Lebanon with his three brothers, looking for work.

Today, Abdullah lives with around 20 other workers in a ramshackle encampment on a patch of wasteland in Lailaki, a poor suburb of south Beirut.

By night, the boy picks through the city’s rubbish, hoping to find objects of value.

By day, instead of going to school, Abdullah sorts through his discoveries with his “boss”, an aggressive middle-aged woman who claims to own the camp and who, Abdullah says, beats the children if they do not make her enough money.

A few hours sleep in a filthy, cramped tent with no heat or running water and a bowl of rice is his reward.

“My family sent me here to work and now I haven’t seen them for so long,” said Abdullah, his hands rough from manual labour.


Photo: Hamza Haj Hassan/IRIN

"I do hope for a better life. But I’m stuck here. Even if I could leave I would be lost."

Abdullah, 6

It is illegal for children under the age of 14 to work in Lebanon, as it is for unsupervised children to beg or sell on the streets. Yet the Ministry of Social Affairs estimates that there are around 100,000 under-14s doing manual labour in the country, while some 20,000 Lebanese children live in alternative care because their families are too poor to support them.

Street children, most of whom are from neighbouring Arab countries and so cannot avail of public services, number from 3-5,000, according to estimates by local activists.

“I do hope for a better life,” said Abdullah, who was dirty and appeared malnourished and in need of medical attention. “But I’m stuck here. Even if I could leave I would be lost.”

Nichole Ireland, spokesperson for the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF), said: “Living in these conditions is a violation of a child’s rights. Children have a right to go to school, to be cared for and to live in safe and healthy conditions.”

“No-one out there actively searching out street kids”

Though the social affairs ministry and several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) run projects to protect and rehabilitate street children or those forced into labour, Lebanon lacks a dedicated body to crack down on such abuses, meaning children must be arrested by the regular police before they can enter the social services network.

“There’s no-one out there actively searching out street kids,” John Eter, director of the Home of Hope orphanage in Kahale, on the mountains east of Beirut, told IRIN.


Photo: Hugh Macleod/IRIN

"Ziad got me selling marijuana, then cocaine and heroin. I started smoking marijuana and when I was stoned Ziad used to sell me to men for sex."

Alaa Abdel Karim al-Bouz, 21, is the oldest resident in the Home of Hope orphanage. Read his story…

“We have been suggesting this to the government for four years. Children should get the highest priority in times of crisis. But with all the troubles happening, it seems the security forces are not ready for reform.”

Lebanon is locked in an eight-month old political standoff between the government and the Hezbollah-led opposition that resigned from the cabinet, while in the north the army continues its struggle to defeat Fatah al-Islam militants holed up in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared.

Eter estimated Lebanon has as many as 5,000 street children, 80 percent of them foreigners mainly from Syria, Jordan, Iraq or the Palestinian territories, who carry no identification papers and who therefore cannot attend state school and can be arrested any time.

Activists say the government has resisted calls to give official IDs to street children without papers because they fear it would encourage more parents to abandon their children in Lebanon.

Orphanage lacks funds

Eter opened the Home of Hope orphanage, run through contributions to the Lebanese Evangelical Society (LES), in 1999.

The centre has accommodation for up to 150 boys and girls of any age – usually up to 18 – who sleep in dormitories, take three meals a day, play sports and receive schooling and counseling, including check-ups by a psychologist.

“These children are brought up in homes where it is normal for them to be beaten or even raped. Some have advanced drug addiction. We have a psychologist always here, but the best therapy for kids is other kids,” said Eter.

However, the Home of Hope is facing a drastic funding crisis. Eter said that since 2004 the government had reduced its support to the centre by 80 percent, meaning the budget of around US$500,000 has shrunk to around $30,000, just enough to feed and cloth the 64 children currently resident.


Photo: Hugh Macleod/IRIN
Since 1999, the Lebanese Evangelical Society (LES) has run an orphanage in Kahale, in the mountains east of Beirut, which has been a place of sanctuary for hundreds of abandoned street children

Two thirds of the teaching and support staff have already been laid off, with the remainder receiving letters announcing their dismissal by the end of August, when Eter said the centre would have to close in the absence of extra funds.

“I have made many appeals for money from the British and French embassies and from the European Union and USAID [US Agency for International Development], but they are not interested because the kids are not Lebanese. There is money for political activities but not for humanitarian,” said Eter.

Minister of Social Affairs Naila Mouawad, who herself runs a foundation which helps working children in Tripoli, north Lebanon, told IRIN that the Home of Hope had been awarded $200,000 from the government this year, but that payment had been severely delayed by the ongoing political deadlock.

Street children – victims of organised crime

Street children – victims of organised crime

03 Jul 2006 15:09:05 GMT
Source: IRIN

BEIRUT, 3 July (IRIN) – In Beirut, you can find street children at almost every major traffic intersection, washing car windows, selling chewing gum or begging. Their dirty little hands tap the car window while their bright eyes look into yours in search of signs compassion.

Samir is only 12 years old, but living on the streets has made him grow up quickly. Palestinian of origin, his story is a sad –but all too common – one. "I’ve been begging since I was eight," he said. "My mother left when I was five, and now my father beats me and makes me beg for money."

Samir is only one of thousands of children eking out a living on the streets of Lebanon’s cities. According to Dr Nabil Watfa of the International Labour Organization, there are roughly 100,000 children currently working in the country, including those on the streets. "The number of children working on the streets is difficult to determine," said Watfa. "Anyone who gives you a definite number would be fooling you."

Some of these children are the victims of coercion an organised crime. "Many children are forced to work as beggars, and even prostitutes, by organised gangs, which pay them with cigarettes or drugs," said Jannot Sanah, a psychological supervisor at the Lebanese Evangelical Institute for Social Work and Development.

The institute is one of very few in Lebanon devoted to the issue of street children and the only one working in cooperation with the social affairs ministry.

Limited government role

According to one social affairs official who wished to remain anonymous, the ministry plays a limited role in combating the trend. "Our role is preventive," he explained. "We try to mingle with the children and attract them to our centres for recreation and education, rather than leaving them on the streets where they are subject to drugs and crime." He added: "When street children are caught by the police and taken to police stations, our representatives work on moving them to specialised institutes."

Nevertheless, a lack of resources has ruled out the presence of social representatives at all the country’s police stations. "Security personnel, after making sure the child has no criminal record, contact a specialised institute to take care of the child," explained one interior ministry official.

According to Sanah, children are also sometimes taken to juvenile court, "where they can be sentenced to spend time at institutes like ours". Children under 17 can also be sent to juvenile centres or special juvenile sections in prisons.

A lack of funding

The Evangelical Institute takes in children between the ages of three and 18 and aims to provide them with basic education, shelter, healthcare and general protection. Sanah pointed out that most of the children at the institute are Iraqi, Syrian, Palestinian or Kurdish, or have a Lebanese mother and a non-Lebanese father. "Very few are Lebanese," she said, adding that roughly 90 percent of them lack official identification of any kind.

Ever since Lebanon ratified the International Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, Sanah added, the UN has also occasionally sent the institute refugee children for care. "There was one Syrian girl who we took care of for three years before the UN managed to find a home for her in Australia," said Sanah. "We currently have an Iraqi child, also sent to us by the UN."

According to statistics, the institute sheltered 239 children in 2004 and 172 last year. From the beginning of 2006, the centre has received around 90 children, 60 of whom have chosen to remain at the centre. Sanah attributed the drop to "the security situation and tightening security measures on the Syria-Lebanon border, where many of these children and gangs come from".

Despite its good work, however, the institute – which is financed primarily through donations – is facing hard times. Promised monies from the social affairs ministry have been several months late, said Sanah, which has resulted in a major funding shortfall.

Street Kids

Street Kids

(blog entry) 

Yes they do not look like street kids, because they have been taken in fed, clothed educated and rehabilitated.
Hearing them sing about Mama was heart breaking. Many of us broke into tears, even the men.

This is old stuff but it apparently has not seen the light of day ( which means it had not been blogged by me)

The Children Nobody Wanted

What I remember most about her are her eyes. Large dark brown eyes in the sweetest face I could ever imagine. She was all of four years old. Father John held her in his arms as he told her story.
Some few months ago this child was found in the streets of Lebanon with her two younger siblings.In her three and something years, she had been thrown out into the streets with her two younger siblings. She cared for them for some days before being rescued and sent to this home . She had kept herself and her siblings alive by feeding them and herself with water from the drains.
She and her siblings suffered from a severe gastroenteritis but they lived , and her she was, with her large brown eyes and curly black hair tied back from her face by a pretty ribbon and her clean chubby body in a pretty dress.Who could have done this, who could have thrown out this little girl and her baby sister and brother? They investigated and this is what they found:
A desperate mother whose husband was imprisoned, who had no means to feed them and herself and in her lack of resources, and in her lack of humanity for having to live a life less than human , had deemed it necessary to throw out her children in order to survive in a land where she was herself not a citizen and had no rights….
More and more people are becoming stateless, landless,jobless..through no fault of their own except for being born in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Can you then look at a human being who is without his/her humanity and then blame them for being so, for not having a humanity because they have had very little human rights?
I know you can still blame them.
I know you can still blame them for being crooks and desperados who beat and rape and plunder and bring into this world more inhuman human beings, creatures with no rights, creatures thrown into streets, exploited and made use of, growing up to be replicas of their parents.
What do we do about this flotsam and jetsam , this scum of the humankind?
The Evangelical Society of Lebanon decided to pick them up and house them, cloth them, feed them, educate them, rehabilitate them…rehabilitate little children some of whom had become sex addicts, drug addicts, thieves and thugs, some as young as three years old.
They had a clinical psychologist to help them deal with their traumas, a lawyer who looked into their cases..in Lebanon Street children are deemed to be criminals by law…yes ,this little kids had police case files. ..Other staff included cooks and teachers and caregivers. Some were employed, some were carefully picked volunteers who loved children and could deal with them with love and patience.
It cost a lot of money, a whole lot of money which was not forthcoming from the Government and was not even chanelled to them from foreign NGOs because it was policy in Lebanon that non citizens could not receive the foreign funds meant to help them.The huge dilapidated multistory building that housed this children’s home was built on the side of the hill.It was comfortable, cheerful ,clean but shabby with its paint peeling and its furniture needing repair.
How did this group manage.? Father John said, only by a miracle and a prayer did they manage all they had done.
They had room for only 100 children .
Most of the children were Muslim and some of their origins were only known by the way they looked, the dialect they spoke and their names.
We looked into the classroom of the four year old boys and girls, in their standard blue teeshirts and pants. Teacher asked if they would sing for us. They were happy to do so! Teacher took them to the hall where they sat in a small group, huddled like little kittens and then proceeded to sing a song about Mama. A song of praise to Mama..What Mama I thought? Yet the love and longing for Mama rang through their sweet children’s voices, straight to my heart, piercing my heart, breaking it to pieces until I had to turn my face away, contorted in grief,a grief I must not show to these motherless children.