In recent months, harrowing revelations of severe abuse of children have ignited public outrage in Lebanon. These distressing cases, however, are merely the visible manifestation of a deeper crisis, one that threatens the very fabric of our society. As Lebanon grapples with an ongoing socio-economic poly-crisis, the vulnerability of our children has never been more pronounced.
In recent headlines, we've witnessed the maltreatment of infants at a daycare center, the sexual abuse of children in institutions entrusted with their well-being, the heart-breaking abandonment of newborns in trash bins and the tragic story of a 6-year-old girl who suffered repeated rape and ultimately lost her life within the walls of her grandfather's home. Tragically, this list of horrors continues to grow, and it will persist unless we take immediate action.
Over the past four years of Lebanon's devastating economic crisis, we have seen an exponential surge in cases of violence. This includes not only violent discipline against children but also gender-based violence (GBV) and child abandonment. As the systems designed to protect these already vulnerable children crumble, economic hardship only exacerbates the problem, leading struggling families to resort to harmful coping mechanisms such as sending their young children to work or marrying off girls at an early age.
These violations of child rights are not insurmountable challenges, but the longer we delay addressing them, the more entrenched and harmful they become. While we may not see an end in sight to the catastrophic socio-economic crisis, it is within our power as leaders, parents and communities to make choices that prioritize the well-being of our children.
Lebanon urgently requires comprehensive child protection and social protection systems. We need robust child and family welfare services, underpinned by a strong legal framework that guarantees protection for all children in our nation. Ministries must enhance their reporting and referral mechanisms to ensure no child falls through the cracks. Adequate training for staff in safe identification, referral procedures and psychosocial support is essential. Simultaneously, we must confront cultural practices and social norms that endanger our children, such as child labor, child marriage and corporal punishment. A key intervention to achieving this lies in the widespread implementation of 'Qudwa,' or ‘Role Model,’ a ground-breaking program that promotes prevention of violence and prioritizes early intervention.
As a society, we need to come together and commence the journey towards recovery today, ensuring that every child in Lebanon enjoys the fundamental right to nurturing care, whether at home, in school, or within our communities. Our children are the future of our nation, and it is our collective duty to safeguard their well-being.
Edouard Beigbeder is the UNICEF representative in Lebanon.