Almost 2 million people have fled Syria to Lebanon since the start of the conflict in 2011, out of which hundreds of thousands of children deprived of education, food and their most basic needs. As a result, a lot of them had to resort to begging in order to provide for their families, or were recruited and exploited by organized mobs (or sometimes their own families) to make revenues. These gangs usually distribute children at different strategic points and threaten them to collect a minimum amount of money or suffer dire consequences. This is why a lot of children beggars refuse to take food when offered and ask for money instead, and they follow you every where out of fear that they might get beaten up when they go back home. As a result, most of them end up working long hours in detrimental conditions and leading a catastrophic lifestyle which poses many risks on their physical and mental well-being. To make things even worse, some gangs are sexually exploiting these children or even selling their kidneys.
Should we help street children or not?
Child beggars have been present since ever in Lebanon, but their situation has worsened with the Syrian crisis as more families are inhabiting the streets and more children are being forced out of school to beg for their families, or are being exploited by child beggar networks, and this is quite noticeable in many streets in Beirut specially in Hamra where there are tens of families living on the side walks and child beggars all over the place.
Personally speaking, I can’t but help children I see on the street, no matter what their nationality is, but I always prefer to give them food instead of money because I know money is going to the wrong people. Some take the food you offer them while others only want cash and become annoying at some point, but giving them money will make them come back for more which is why I refuse to do so. Of course I wish I could get these children out of the street and put them back in school, but there’s little I can do about that and the only way to help is by spreading awareness on this matter and promoting the NGOs helping refugees and street children, or even doing small initiatives like the one LiveLoveBeirut and JouéClub did back in Christmas based on one of the pictures I took.
Who is to blame for this situation?
Both begging and child labor are illegal in Lebanon and the government is responsible for enforcing laws that prohibit exploiting children to finance illegal activities or for sexual purposes. Moreover, Lebanon is forced to abide by the Convention on the rights of the child that was agreed on in 1991. This being said, it is the responsibility of the authorities and mainly the ministry of social affairs to help get these children out of the street and back into school, and more importantly arrest the gangs that are playing a major role in keeping children on the street.
Sadly enough, this issue has long been neglected by the authorities and the only organization in Lebanon that offers a refuge to both Lebanese and non-Lebanese street children (Home of Hope) is not receiving enough funds to do its job. The organization, established by the Lebanese Evangelical Society (LES), is headed by Mr. John Eter, and offers kids a basic education, medical insurance and most importantly a loving environment.
What happened at Dunkin Donuts in Hamra?
A story has gone viral in the past few days about a Dunkin Donuts employee who “beat up” a Syrian child beggar and kicked him out of the coffee shop. The story spread before it even got confirmed and the picture of a DD employee that had nothing to do with the incident got shared somehow. Eventually, the employee who hit the child got suspended by Dunkin Donuts Lebanon and a police investigation is underway according to what they stated on Facebook, while Al Jadeed interviewed the employee and other eye witnesses who stated that the kid wasn’t beaten up as stated. Needless to say, what this employee did was wrong whether he slapped or beat up the kid and I think DD should have added an apology to their statement but I don’t understand people, specially Dima Sadek whom I respect, who are asking to boycott Dunkin Donuts because of that incident. How is boycotting Dunkin Donuts going to help with anything? When did boycotting ever achieve anything? And did they take into consideration the hundreds of families who are against such practices and working with Dunkin Donuts? What if the child beggar was a Lebanese or a Kurd? Why does it matter that he’s a Syrian?
Moreover, I can easily confirm that a similar incident has taken place in almost every coffee shop I’ve been to in Lebanon, and street children are humiliated, beaten up, slapped and pushed away almost everywhere in Lebanon. Shall we start boycotting all the shops? I think a smarter idea would be to mount the pressure on the authorities to do something about this growing phenomenon and help raise funds for concerned NGOs to help these children. I would also encourage journalists and influential people in the media to tackle this problem with the concerned ministries instead of focusing on an isolated incident.
Can we help Lebanon’s street children?
Lebanon has suffered the most from the flow of Syrian refugees, and the Syrian crisis has proven to be a huge burden socially economically and politically. The international help that we are getting is not enough to cope with the ever-growing influx of refugees and the biggest problem is that there’s a whole generation of children, victims of the Syrian war, that are forced to drop out of school and are destroying their future. This being said, the fact that there’s a single institution in Lebanon dealing with homeless children is unacceptable, and the work that the ministry of social affairs has been doing is less than pathetic. For that purpose, we need a new strategy to cope with this ever-growing problem and as it happens, one LAU student came up with a cool idea that “includes modified and improved methodologies of dealing with beggar children, collecting donations, recruiting street educators and volunteers, and educating the general populous about the situation, through the establishment of a non-governmental organization”. I’m sure there are other proposals and ideas that are as affordable and sustainable and can help provide a better living for all street children of all nationalities in Lebanon. Let’s not forget that 1.5 Million Lebanese are below the poverty line according to the UN and a lot of Lebanese child beggars originate from the Bekaa area so this is not just a problem related to the refugees and concerns a whole generation of Lebanese as well.