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Maysa Ahmed Mustafa pictured during class with children in Association Najdeh’s community centre in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp.

Maysa Ahmed Mustafa pictured during class with children in Association Najdeh’s community centre ...Christian Aid/Association Najdeh

Supporting vulnerable children impacted by Lebanon’s economic crisis

Published on 8 February 2022

Lebanon is experiencing an economic crisis that the World Bank has branded amongst the worst the world has seen since the 1850s. Since October 2019, the Lebanese pound has reduced in value by over 90% causing hyperinflation and pushing the cost of basic items and services such as food, electricity, and healthcare beyond the reach of many. Since the economic crisis and the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s unemployment rate has risen to over 50%.

According to the UN, the economic crisis has pushed nearly 4 million people (over 80% of the country’s population) into poverty, with 1.65 million (almost 40%) now living in extreme poverty. The situation has become so desperate that 1 in 10 children in Lebanon are now working to help support their families.

The price of fuel has also skyrocketed, with a refill for a standard car now costing more than the Lebanese national monthly minimum wage. Fuel shortages have also meant that electricity provided by the state has been limited to just a few hours per day, leaving hospitals and health care centres with no choice but to look to expensive fuel-run generators just to be able to provide scaled-back services.

Food prices have jumped by nearly 400% in the space of a year and the cost of vegetables, meat and bread is now three times what it was a year ago, a situation that is forcing children right across the country to skip meals. While almost no one in Lebanon is unaffected by the crisis, some are more affected than others. According to the World Food Programme, high food prices have seen 22% of Lebanese, 50% of Syrian refugees and 33% of refugees from other backgrounds struggling to have enough food to eat. 

In this extended blog, we look at how Lebanon’s economic crisis is impacting on society’s most vulnerable; children, and how Christian Aid’s local partners are supporting them.

Palestinian refugees

Nahr al-Bared refugee camp is situated near the city of Tripoli in northern Lebanon and is home to 27,000 Palestinians. Working through our local partner Association Najdeh, and with emergency funding from Irish Aid, Christian Aid supported those affected by the economic crisis by providing cash grants ranging from $600-$2,500 to 25 community groups. The grants were spent on a range of initiatives including the installation of streetlights, paying for calculators for school children and buying winter clothes for people living with disabilities.

With support from Christian Aid, Association Najdeh also runs a community centre in the camp where the effects of the economic crisis on the most vulnerable are particularly apparent. Typically, over 200 children attend the centre each week taking part in art classes and sports and other activities such as puppet shows as well as accessing counselling within the centre’s children’s support groups. Each Friday, the centre also provides healthy snacks for children who attend to eat. But with the worsening economic crisis the number of children who come for food has doubled.

“The economic crisis has increased the burden on people. The unemployment rate has gone up. Families can no longer afford basics,” says Maysa Ahmed Mustafa, a Social Worker with Association Najdeh.

Families in the camp are living on one meal a day and are getting into debt in order to pay their rent. Some are unable to pay rent at all.

- Maysa.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many classes went online but the economic crisis has made it far harder for children to participate. Families are unable to afford the rising costs of electricity and this alongside frequent power outages has left them struggling to have regular and reliable access to the internet.

But as Maysa explains, in-person learning in schools is also being pushed beyond the reach of these children.

The economic crisis is preventing children from going to school. Though schools are free, parents are unable to afford school uniforms, school bags or stationery. With fuel prices increasing every day because of fuel shortages, the cost of getting to school has also increased.”

According to Maysa, the scale of the economic crisis and the impact of both it and the coronavirus pandemic are causing mounting stress for the children.

Maysa Ahmed Mustafa pictured during class with children in Association Najdeh’s community centre in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp.

Maysa Ahmed Mustafa pictured during class with children in Association Najdeh’s community centre ...Christian Aid/Association Najdeh

The children tell us about their fears. They worry about losing a relative to coronavirus, not completing their studies or dropping out of school. They also talk about poverty, about not having new clothes and shoes and having to wear clothes donated from neighbours and relatives. They are also worried about not having enough food to eat and the fears of becoming sick as they see how difficult it is to get medicine and treatment.

- Maysa

Children and young people in trouble with the law

Moving south to just outside the Lebanese capital Beirut sits Roumieh prison. The prison houses over 3,000 male prisoners and has a dedicated juvenile wing housing around 100 children and young people aged 12-21 who have come into conflict with the law and are either on remand or serving a custodial sentence.

As Nada Abbani who leads Mouvement Social’s rehabilitation programme inside the prison explains, the economic crisis is impacting on the type of crime being carried out by the young people they support in Roumieh prison.

“Nearly three-quarters of the crimes we are seeing from juveniles is theft and this is increasing because of the economic crisis,” says Nada.

With support from Christian Aid, Mouvement Social run a rehabilitation programme inside the prison for around 60-80 of these young men and boys, most of whom are poor Lebanese or Syrian. Through the rehabilitation programme, juvenile offenders are offered a choice of vocational training in barbering, computer maintenance, carpentry or leather goods making.

For the latter two, once the juveniles complete their training, they take part in a workshop where they produce different items for display in exhibitions around the country, providing them with some money for their work as well as demonstrating to the public that they have something to offer society and have the right to reintegrate upon their release and to be given a second chance. 

A leather belt made by a juvenile offender who took part in vocational training offered inside Roumieh prison

A leather belt made by a juvenile offender who took part in training offered inside prison - Mouvement Social

As part of the programme, participants are also provided with legal aid and are offered group or individual therapy sessions with a psychologist to provide them with emotional support. With support from Christian Aid, Mouvement Social also provide a reintegration programme to support juveniles upon their release which includes support from a social worker to help them reconcile with their families as well as plan for life after release.

While according to Mouvement Social their programmes prove to be a success for the majority of participants, the economic crisis is making it hard for some to make a fresh start post-release. 

Some of the young people aren’t able to find jobs or are only able to find low-paid jobs and this is forcing them to turn to crime which sees them return to prison again.

- Nada.

Further compounding the situation these juvenile offenders and their families face, the economic crisis gripping the country has also collided with the coronavirus pandemic. While Movement Social were able to continue providing their legal, psychological, and social work services remotely over the phone, measures introduced by the prison authorities to prevent coronavirus from spreading meant that the rehabilitation programme came to a halt and families and organisations like Mouvement Social were unable to attend the prison for face-to-face visits from March 2020 to June 2021.

The economic crisis is also preventing some families from visiting their children.

With the crisis, fuel has become very expensive. Some families can’t go to the prison because they can’t afford the price of transportation,” explains Charlotte Tanios, Protection Sector Co-ordinator with Mouvement Social.

Many of the families are unable to afford a lawyer or the fees required to be paid for their child to be released from prison. For others, providing money to pay for their children’s basics is beyond reach. 

“Children need soap, tissues, a toothbrush. The parents pay for them and they are collected from a shop inside the prison, but the prices are also very expensive.”

Despite the scale of the challenges they face, Mouvement Social’s programme has continued to make a difference.

“We are working in a hard situation but no more than five out of about 60 juveniles we support each year return to prison,” Charlotte concludes.

Help Christian Aid continue to reach some of the most vulnerable people in some of the world’s poorest countries

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