By Diana Nemeh, Special to Ya Libnan
Drive down any congested street in Beirut on any given day in any given weather and you will see children running around. Not the type of running around that all children should be doing in playgrounds, but rather the running around in between cars struggling and forced to make a living. Children so young they can barely reach the windows of some cars. Children with dirty hands and faces, dressed in mismatched and tattered clothing, and sometimes even barefoot. With trained eyes, they run from car to car weeding out the ones that are most likely to slide out a 1,000LL through the window crack. Cars with foreign license plates, pricey looking vehicles with tinted windows or women drivers, who perhaps are known to be a bit more compassionate, are among the common targets of these children.
Coming from outside of Lebanon and seeing the images of these desperate yet fearless children begging in the streets is heartbreaking. However, after spending enough time here, you come to realize that these children might be part of a begging network and because of this you begin to dismiss them by avoiding eye contact in hopes they will stop tapping at your car window until that light turns green. At this point, these children have become part of the cluttered ‘décor’ that makes up the streets of Lebanon.
Drivers have adapted to these images and occurrences, therefore, so has the government but ignoring this issue will not make it go away, it has only contributed to the ever-growing social problems here. We must ask ourselves what chance at a future does a child have when he starts his life in the lap of his beggar mother who is using him as a ploy to incite sympathy from passer-bys? What role will this child play in our society when he becomes an adult after being programmed his whole life to lie, manipulate, beg and steal to survive? We will find out the hard way when it is no longer suitable to ignore.
It is estimated that there are over 100,000 child workers in Lebanon, approximately 20% are Lebanese and the rest are of foreign or mixed origin. Every one of these children should be in school learning how to read instead of in the streets learning how to beg. No child should be exposed to life on the streets with the risk falling into the wrong hands and something must be done about it.
Most of us have evolved into realizing that counting on the government to do something will get us nowhere. The Ministry of Interior will not intervene without a complaint filed on behalf of the child’s parents, disregarding the fact that in most cases it is the child’s parent(s) that put them these situations.
However, there are a number of other solutions for this problem such as NGOs, adoption and schooling; yet, they receive little or no support. The NGOs that have been authorized to deal with these children lack funding but if they were able to secure the proper funding, these children would have a place to sleep at night, not based on the condition of whether they brought back enough money for the day. These children will also have the chance to feel protected and to develop properly; necessities their parents are unable to provide. In some cases, these kids are orphans and because the adoption process in Lebanon is complex, they may always remain orphans for the rest of their unfortunate lives. Since only Christian institutions in Lebanon recognize adoptions as a legal convention, it limits the possibility to provide a loving home for a child and vice versa. Finally, there should be legal enforcement of mandatory schooling regardless of background, social class or income. Schools teach a child discipline and encourage them to be positive contribution to society rather than a delinquent.
If we focus on these solutions rather than avoiding the problems, every child could have a chance at a normal childhood, something they are entitled too. However, if we continue to pretend these children do not exist or think there is nothing we can do about it, we will end up paying for the consequences tomorrow because we have not addressed this issue today.