Child Labor in Lebanon: We must make this a thing of the past.
By Guest Author Tatiana Saade
An original range of slavery is present nowadays, the outcome of forced servitude that subsisted along with slavery millennia ago. My ideas are purposed to inform the Lebanese society about the reasons that reject the freewill of our youths that cause an extremely high rate of child labor in our country in which I elaborated a serious lack of consciousness concerning a vital facet of the truth in a way that shows a more obvious view of the abuse of the children’s efforts inside and outside their households. Instructive aspects like the age of children, society, workplaces, conditions, statistics and the capability of the innocent to help or withdraw their involvement in jobs are used to decide if it is supposed to be regarded as child slavery. Thus, child labor in Lebanon is caused by poverty, lack of education, drop outs of schools and the many wars that deteriorated our country. Children’s work is more used than adults’ especially in the industrial sector because they lack experience, qualification and can easily be brainwashed, but society does not talk about it for this issue is considered a taboo in our country since the efforts made to decrease child labor were only for the sensitive matters not even in our law labor, and the authorities that abuse minors are inefficiently penalized. My thoughts are close to being alive, however they could be considered as a flaw because of my subjective belief upon this matter. By illuminating this development, I hope that every child, parent, politician, authority and businessperson will not tolerate the dirt covering children’s faces hands and clothes and their squatting with a stare of deep sadness turned into tears.
“Your children are not your children. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you, you may house their bodies but not their souls”- said Khalil Gebran. Every day, thousands of children carry school bags where books have no place. In Lebanon, there are more than 100,000 kids who are sufferers of child labor and illegal trafficking, susceptible to mistreatment and working in death-defying circumstances. You and I were children once and were given the right and chance to grow up as children. They do too but they are kept quiet. Imagine yourself bought, sold, raped and abused. Now imagine you are a 4 year old. Or picture 5 year olds forced to work in mines and to have sex with 15 clients a day. Now imagine those children are your son and daughter. Can you hear what they are not saying?
I have come to realize the tragic fact that Lebanon has the highest ratio of child labor worldwide. This matter is very important because the very existence of child workers is ignored and considered as a taboo in my country.
Certain parents oblige their children to work in order to provide money, and sometimes sell them instead of working themselves. This is caused by the ignorance of some and the mentality of others who live under sticking to traditions, norms and values. The families that send their children to work are usually big families who live in rural and very poor areas or in refugee camps that do not provide a very good lifestyle or circumstances. Furthermore, poverty in Lebanon is the result of the political crisis in the country that is a struggling political regime and causes uncertain economic growth. Lebanon has been through many civil wars that corrupted the political, social and economic systems, and a bad management of a country leaves behind bad conditions and poverty to its society. Another cause concerning the high rate of the children who work is education. Firstly, the education has become a minor matter for the poor. Not only does poverty cause drop outs of schools, but the failure phenomenon because of illiterate parents does too. As I said before, working children live in refugee camps and the distribution of public schools is uneven as well as the transportation that is not always available and the tuition fees are unaffordable for a large number of families. In fact, public schools do not offer real opportunities for students to achieve academically nor do they give them a protective environment. Moreover, gender inequality is present in public schools. Firstly, there is a male preference which indicates that Lebanon is a third world country that sticks to traditions, and secondly there are gender differentials in trend of engagement in child labor. Education is a must in order to civilize society and since there are a lot of factors that hold back education, Lebanon is a country that has a high rate of child Labor. I believe education is vital for a country to be developed and with educated people comes very little poverty and therefore more families that can afford tuition fees and less child labor. As stated above, Lebanon has been through many civil wars, many combats. This factor leads to using child laborers as child soldiers, to using children in combats. The vulnerability of these children to involvement in armed conflicts has let them be resigned to violence and take drugs in order not to be scared of the weapons. In addition, since politics in Lebanon is falling apart, many militant parties use youngsters as soldiers, they use them in military armed forces and especially the children of the refugee camps of South Lebanon are strongly involved. In my opinion, in order to diminish this high ratio of child labor in Lebanon, we need to look at them as children and not as factors that bring money to industries.
It is known worldwide that many companies use kids in place of adults [Nike, Abercrombie & Fitch etc] in order to produce goods and services. This is done because children’s work costs cheaper than adults’. Youngsters do not have the qualification nor experiences therefore not understand their wages and the merit of their work. Not only do children work because they are forced but they sometimes volunteer to work in order to help their families so the children choose working over education. When forced by their parents, children are usually forced into prostitution [especially girls] or industries [mainly boys] and their revenues are given to their parents or else they would be brutalized. Even though child labor is illegal in Lebanon, people use youngsters because of extreme poverty and total political deadlock. Some parents complain about their financial situation and think it’s adequate to let children work. Furthermore, other than the cheap cost of children’s work adults take advantage of them since they can easily be manipulated. If they didn’t do their work well the children get abused. Parents selling their own flesh and blood or forcing them to work against their wills is already a big emotional abuse that is not taken into consideration by the adults and this involves the exploitation of defenseless human beings too young to speak out for themselves and emotional abuse is accentuated by physical harshness and violence (The bosses children refer to, hit, beat and insult these young laborers in order to make them work even harder than they already are. Because of their vulnerability, children do not know what they are worth and they are naïve towards their position. They overestimate themselves because they think their lifestyle is the only available way of life and the only one that parents can afford. The young are brainwashed to be ambitious, they do not complain about it and they think it is a kind of transitory phase and the high rate of poverty in Lebanon lets the children believe they have no other way except dropping out of school and that parents have no other option if they cannot afford the tuition fees. Product-wise, children’s work is neater and tidier than adults’. This is caused by the fear of the youngsters towards their boss who abuses them therefore they learn to work the right way with no mistakes. They are everywhere but invisible, toiling as domestic servants in homes, laboring behind the walls of workshops, hidden from view in plantations. As John Lennon sang “As soon as you are born they make you feel small by giving you no time instead of it all until the pain is so big you feel nothing at all they hurt you at home and they hit you at school they hate you if you are clever and they despise a fool when they have tortured and scared you for twenty years then they expect you to pick a career when you cannot really function you are so full of fear but first you must learn how to smile as you kill a working class hero is something to be.” Thus, there is no protection concerning child labor in their workplaces. The children are engaged in hazardous conditions, like working in mines, with chemicals and pesticides in agriculture or working with dangerous machines. Small hands are better in holding a pen than in holding cutting iron. In my opinion, children have nothing other than their audacity and their smiles, their intelligence and their dreams this is why they know that they have to work in order to provide food on the table to their families and they intend to do it properly. Indeed, a working class hero is something to be.
Child Labor is still considered a taboo in Lebanon. Poor families often rely on the labors of their children for survival, and at times it is their only source of revenue. This kind of work is often buried away since it is not always in the industrial sector. However efforts to normalize child labor regulations and limit employment age have taken place but with limits. Lebanon only legalized the touchy issues related to the safety of children’s work and concerns have regularly been raised over the community’s moral participation in buying products made in developing countries with child labor. But Lebanon is a third world country and it needs people to work therefore the children are used and as long as it increases the GDP of the country people do not abide by the law and do not put efforts to save the new generations. It is worth to mention that the apprehension of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in fighting against child labor is present since its founding in 1999. At that time ILO authorized caucuses which banned the youngsters under the age of 14 to work. Unfortunately the ratified rules have not happened to be part of the law labor and are still self-sufficient. However the worrying of the Lebanese government about working children’s guard and care refers to more than 50 years. These are various programs that aim at maintaining children’s rights and at pointing up the realization of the Lebanese society about this high percentage of child labor and their hope to sort it out.
Another hidden form of child labor is street children. Those children either sell products on the street or beg for money. They are not supervised 24/7 but they have to bring their earnings to their authorities. Most minors work in sectors that are expelled in a good number of nations, including our country, from the law and there is a lack of labor examination to apply the supplies to the engagement of youngsters in these sectors. Lebanon is supposed to feel shame because child labor declines to go away. No one has the time nor the will to become activists and consider helping out street kids. Street children is the most abundant position for hiring and any association can benefit from them and keep them silent. Furthermore, the high rate of child labor in Lebanon is caused by the ignorance of employers, parents and guardians of the law regarding this subject. The children abusers are inefficiency penalized in Lebanon. Civic strategies designed to fight child labor that aim for it to reach its helpful elimination cannot be successful unless it is accompanied by strict punishments to face the useful achievement of these policies. To the tone of heartbeats hammering and to the pulse of the terrible equipments the children do not sleep. Every gasp they take makes them bandits. They crawl on their knees and sweat all day for you. They work in order to be seen through dreams that just do not come true. To the beat of a bomb ticking and the resound of the sirens they are pursued like dogs and run from your grip day in and day out. They do not live; they just survive the few days that they preciously value. The real feelings of the children working in industries, mines and risky workplaces are kept quiet along with what tears them up and brings them down. It is a feeling of betrayal because the children are treated worse than the law punishes their abusers. People dare to speak about pacts and conventions. Slogans about child labor are a cliché and respect of the law is on newspapers’ headlines. But when a child dies of starvation or cold, people start hiding the kids’ identities. I know and strongly believe that we live in a harsh reality. The children are beaten on behalf of authorities and dream silently of little dignity. They work fifteen hours everyday in order not to starve. They sell themselves for a bite of bread to people who no longer have conscious, who dust up the youngsters’ souls and innocence and offer them hate that mark their hearts forever. Do we still have the right to talk about rights on behalf of the children who do not?
At the end of the day, child labor and poverty are linked to one another and if we carry on using the work of minors as the cure of the public illness, we will cover equally both poverty and child labor. In my country, the children who work live in rural areas and come from big illiterate families. They either drop out of schools and work in hazardous workplaces or are sold by their parents who simply do not feel like working. What is more, youngsters are expected to provide their every day pay to adults implicated in child mistreatment. These defenseless innocents are often drugged and used in wars especially in the South. Their work is needed more than adults’ because it is cheaper and tidier. Why tidier? Because the children that are physically and mentally abused by their bosses fear making any mistake and even with the help of some, conventions preventing child labor have not even become part of out law labor and are only legalized for the sensitive matters. Furthermore street children is a more hidden form of child labor caused by the ignorance of the society but unfortunately, the abusers who mistreat them are not inefficiently penalized. These kids that you spit on while they struggle changing their world are attentive to what they are going through. I am speaking to you child of every continent, you are not on earth to pay nor to suffer. If you are a victim do not wait until tomorrow, take the decision to change your destiny there are laws to protect you and it is up to you to let the world respect them. And you citizen, who are home with your father and close and warm to your mother. “Think about the generations and to say we want to make it a better world for our children and our children’s children. So that they know it’s a better world for them; and think if they can make it a better place” sang Michael Jackson. If we do not stand up for children then we do not speak up for much. Again, citizen, you have the right to remain silent. But if you do, the children pay the price.
Tatiana Saade is a student in political science at the Lebanese American University Student currently finishing a semester at Sciences Po, Paris.