“Everywhere around us, everyday Children are denied their rights,” Tanya Chapuisat, UNICEF representative in Lebanon, said at the launch of the joint EU-UNICEF Child Rights Toolkit Wednesday. “Society and the time we live in often take this for granted. It shouldn’t be so and that’s why we are here today.” The aim of the EU funded toolkit – in the form of a small, thick spiral-bound booklet or digital document – is to be a go-to guide for governments, NGOs and other local and national actors to integrate child rights into policies and projects.
It contains more than 80 tools in eight thematic modules from child rights in development programming, governance, crisis situations, participative impact assessments and budgeting. “It provides guidelines,” Chapuisat told The Daily Star at the post-launch news conference. “If we want to review a policy ... it gives us an indication of what we should take into consideration in order to be able to move forward.”
Another aim of the toolkit is to encourage applying child rights principles beyond the traditional sectors of nutrition, health and education. During her presentation, UNICEF Senior Policy Adviser Verena Knaus said that “the message of the toolkit is [that] there is no single policy ... that does not have an impact on children.”
The toolkit was first launched in 2013. Since, it has been translated into six languages – the version released Wednesday is the first in Arabic – and introduced in countries across the globe.
The two-day symposium following the launch at the Movenpick Hotel in Beirut was attended by staff from various ministries, NGOs, civil society organizations and representatives of the security forces. Discussions will explore how the toolkit can be used in the Lebanese context to further the country’s child rights agenda.
Lebanon has been on a steady positive trajectory in terms of children’s rights, according to EU Deputy Head of Delegation Julia Koch. In the ’90s, Lebanon ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and subsequently established the Higher Council for Childhood in the Social Affairs Ministry to monitor its implementation. Koch added that passing Law 422 in 2002, which established protections for at risk children or those that committed a crime, confirmed the state’s commitment to child protection.
However, Koch added there were still significant challenges, especially in regards to the most vulnerable children. “Although progress has been achieved, there are still factors that hinder the complete observance of children’s rights,” she said.
Some of the at least 1.7 million children in Lebanon experience forced labor, neglect, sexual exploitation, lack of access to education, criminal activity, child marriage or statelessness. Street-based children are the some of the most visible representation of these challenges, as the number of minors working or begging in Lebanese streets has increased with the influx of Syrian refugees since the start of the countries 6-year-old conflict.
Lebanon currently hosts 1.01 million registered Syrian refugees, 46 percent of which are children according to UNICEF. The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that 70 percent of the community lives below the local poverty line, with many children forced to work or beg to help support families.
In 2014, the EU, UNICEF and the Social Affairs Ministry teamed up to implement a National Plan to Safeguard Women and Children in Lebanon. Koch said the EU has committed 30 million euros ($32 million) to child protection programs in Lebanon and around six times that amount toward children’s education. In addition, it is currently preparing a new program in collaboration with various ministries focused on justice for children.
This is a key element of Lebanon’s child rights’ agenda, couched in a broader aim to strengthen the child protection system. The Justice Ministry Director General Judge Maysam al-Noueiri spoke at the launch and the subsequent news conference, joined by four other judges.
She said that while the Justice Ministry was working to ensure the protection of at risk children, there is a need for more specialized NGOs that are able to deal with the psychological and social support of minors coming into contact with the law and that any center or program designed to provide support for juvenile offenders “should be in parallel with taking care of families.”
“We are all doing our absolute best, but you are aware of the difficulties ... our resources are limited.” She added that the Syrian crisis had made the situation more acute, making this cooperation with UNICEF and the EU all the more important.
The EU is working with the ministry to support a new justice reform program, “Juvenile justice is a big priority for us,” Koch said. “The idea is to have a holistic approach that means also to look at crime prevention and protection of children.” A component of the program is looking into refurbishing state facilities suitable to house juvenile offenders that also provide education for children while in detention.
Koch said there was certainly work to be done, but the launch of the Child Rights Toolkit in Lebanon and the training of those in positions to apply the tools now available was a positive step. “These two days will be our opportunity to discuss ... what remains to be done and the best way to do it,” she said. “Ensuring the respect of the rights of the child is our common responsibility. The children of this country deserve no less.”