In Lebanon, Syrian refugee children between the ages 6 and 10 are working 10-hour-long days, six days a week, selling goods on the street to make money for their families, according to the International Rescue Committee.
The IRC surveyed 173 Syrian refugee children in Beirut and Tripoli, Lebanon’s largest cities, and found that two-thirds of refugee children from Syria work on the streets.
A quarter of those children said they worked between between 11 and 15 hours per day.
That’s one in four Syrian refugee children in Lebanon who works longer hours than the average adult in the United States.
The IRC found that for children whose parents are out of work, or have trouble finding work, it’s common for children to work through day and night on the streets selling anything from CDs to flowers, tissues, and gum.
In addition to the quarter of children who work brutal hours on the streets, 63% of those questioned said they had experienced violence.
Children reported physical violence, verbal abuse and some instances of sexual harassment, according to IRC, none of which is acceptable for vulnerable children to experience.
“I would be scared, and worried about him, until he'd get home. Often his CDs would be stolen, he could have problems with other kids and get beaten up,” said the father of one of the children in the survey.
The majority of Syrian refugee children settled in Lebanon between 2012 and 2014, which highlights another alarming area of neglect for children: many of these children have been out of school for more than two years.
Life for refugee families became harder when Lebanon increased restrictions on residency for Syrian refugees. The government added a $200 fee to renew a permit for residency, and now 80 % of Syrian refugee families lack permits for at least one or more members of the families. This has grossly expanded the number of children working, often in exploitative and dangerous situations.
“Children working on the street is the most visible sign of the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon. Street work is extremely hard for children, involves punishingly long hours, and robs them of the chance to enjoy a normal childhood,” said Sarah Sannouh, IRC’s Street and Working Children Program Manager in Lebanon.
Sannouh and the IRC run programs for working children in Lebanon, providing a small dose of normal childhood activities along with emotional support. Children in the programs are also taught to recognize predatory behavior from adults in hopes that this will lead to less violence inflicted on children in the streets.
The IRC has also helped 150 children, of the 1,500 working on the streets, to get back in school.
Most of the violence children experience occurred from by-passers on the street, so getting children back into school remains a top and urgent priority in Lebanon.