Elections next year will be key to a better future for Lebanon, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Friday ahead of an official visit to the country later this weekend.
In a video message to the people of Lebanon, Mr. Guterres said he was deeply concerned about the hardships they are facing, underlining UN solidarity with the country.
“I am coming to Lebanon with one simple message: the United Nations stands with the people of Lebanon,” he said.
Next week I will be traveling to Lebanon with one simple message: the @UN stands with you.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) December 17, 2021
I look forward to engaging with people from all backgrounds & communities to discuss how we can best help to overcome the crisis and promote peace, justice & human rights. pic.twitter.com/Plkr4CmG3J
The Secretary-General’s visit takes place at a time of crisis for Lebanon, which continues to reel from the impact of numerous challenges, including political upheaval, a crippled economy, and the devastating August 2020 explosion at the port in the capital, Beirut.
Mr. Guterres recalled that more than 200 people from over a dozen countries were killed in the blast, with two children of UN staff members among the victims.
“The blast injured some seven thousand people, leaving many with permanent disabilities. It destroyed thousands of homes. I know the Lebanese people want answers, and I hear your demands for truth and justice,” he said.
“Your suffering is made worse by the cumulative social, economic and political crises. The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the toll.”
The entire “UN family” is focused on supporting Lebanon and its people, said the Secretary-General, who is due to arrive on Sunday afternoon, through to Wednesday, according to the UN media advisory.
Mr. Guterres will meet with different leaders and representatives “to discuss how we can best support you to overcome the crisis and promote peace, stability, justice, development and human rights.”
He also hopes to have the chance to talk with, and listen to, people from all backgrounds and communities.
During the daily UN press briefing in New York, Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told journalists that Mr. Guterres will meet with President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Najib Mikati, as well as a number of religious leaders and civil society members.
The Secretary-General stressed that lasting solutions can only come from inside Lebanon.
“It is essential for leaders to put the people first, and implement the reforms needed to set Lebanon back on track, including efforts to promote accountability and transparency, and root out corruption,” he said
Next year’s elections will be key, he added, and. Lebanon’s people must be fully engaged in choosing how the country moves forward.
“Women and young people must have every opportunity to play their full part. This is the only way Lebanon will lay the foundations for a better future,” he said, adding that “the United Nations will support Lebanon on every step of this journey.”
Meanwhile, at least one million children are in danger of violence as the crisis intensifies in Lebanon, according to a new report published on Friday by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
It warns that one in two children is at serious risk of physical, emotional, or sexual violence as families struggle to cope.
The report was released as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Violence Against Children, Dr. Najat Maalla M’jid, visits the country.
“Lebanon’s crisis threatens the present and the future of millions of children. Ensuring their protection from abuse, harm, and violence and safeguarding their rights are needed more than ever,” she said.
The report reveals that around 1.8 million children, more than 80 per cent, are now experiencing multidimensional poverty, putting them at risk of abuses such as child labour or child marriage to help their families make ends meet.
Cases of child abuse and exploitation handled by UNICEF and partners rose from 3,913 in October 2020, to 5,621 a year later – a 44 per cent increase.
Documented cases of child labour also rose by more than half, up by 53 per cent, according to a survey of UNICEF partner organizations, who said the issue is their top protection concern.
A survey in October found 12 per cent of families polled said they had sent at least one child to work, up from nine per cent six months previously.
UNICEF said children as young as six are now working on farms, on the streets, and illegally selling fuel, putting them at risk of serious burns or even death.
Meanwhile, young girls are at risk of being married off, and one in five Syrian girls aged 15-19 in Lebanon is married.
Cases of domestic violence have also increased, civil society organizations report.
The proportion of women and girls seeking services for gender-based violence has risen sharply in the past three years: from 21 per cent in 2018, to 26 per cent in 2019, to 35 per cent last year.
Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF Lebanon Representative, stressed that children’s safety and wellbeing are intricately connected to every pillar of a well-functioning society.
“It takes a village – food, housing, healthcare, regular schooling, thriving families and functioning social services and institutions – to help children grow up free from harm. When society begins to crumble, children are left extremely vulnerable to abuse, violence and exploitation.”
The UN in Lebanon is working on protecting children from violence, abuse, and exploitation including by reducing poverty; improving access to social welfare services, education and healthcare; and working with the authorities to strengthen protection services.
Extensive efforts are also being made to address the social norms that normalise violence against children and make it culturally accepted.
Najat Rochdi, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon, said the current shocking figures of children subject to abuse and exploitation must be reversed.
“No children in Lebanon, irrespective of their nationality, should be deprived of their basic rights to health, food, education, and protection. They must be at the forefront of the Government’s recovery plans, policies and practice,” she stressed.