Syrian Kids Who Escaped War Face Forced Labor

With the majority of refugees living below the poverty line in Lebanon, many children work to survive.
(Photo: Reuters)
Apr 12, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

From young girls peeling garlic for less than $1 a day to teen boys spending their days working in auto repair shops, child labor is becoming the norm among the refugee population in Lebanon.

Up to 70 percent of Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon work, according to a report released Tuesday by Freedom Fund, an international organization focused on fighting modern slavery.

More than 1 million Syrian refugees live in Lebanon, 417,000 of whom are children between the ages of three and 14, according to the U.N. The vast majority of refugees in Lebanon live in poverty, as most refugees are not authorized to work. That’s left children and adults alike vulnerable to low-paying, exploitative jobs.

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Researchers from Freedom Fund found that Lebanese employers often prefer to hire children, because they’re cheaper and more likely to be obedient. Children are employed across a variety of sectors, working in factories and restaurants and on construction sites and farms.

While some children work to earn money for their families, many are victims of forced labor, the Freedom Fund found. Refugees living in tented communities in rural areas are often at the mercy of the shawish, the head of the makeshift camp, who selects children to work within the community or sends them to nearby employers. The shawish often garnishes the child’s wages to compensate for living expenses. Experts say it’s nearly impossible for parents to refuse this request.

“Without significant and determined intervention, the situation will only worsen for many hundreds of thousands of refugees at risk of extreme exploitation,” Nick Grono, CEO of Freedom Fund, said in a release. The group advised Lebanese officials to amend policies that prohibit adult refugees from entering the workforce.

Lebanon’s economy has suffered from the influx of refugees. Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, poverty and unemployment have climbed in the neighboring nation. In 2015, Lebanon ended its “open door policy” that allowed Syrians to enter without visas, established annual residency fees, and required those registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to agree not to work. Adult refugees who defy the ban face arrest or deportation.