BEIRUT: In response to the alarming prevalence of child abuse cases in Lebanon, the Social Affairs Ministry, in cooperation with Save the Children and the Higher Council for Childhood, launched a national awareness campaign Wednesday to combat all forms of violence against children.
Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour called for stronger laws protecting children’s rights during a ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Baabda to launch the campaign.
“Our children are not safe, they are in danger,” said Abu Faour. “The violations that we hear about in the media are only the tip of the iceberg. Not a week passes without a case of abuse or more reaching the ministry.”
According to official numbers from the Social Affairs Ministry, 850 cases of child abuse – ranging from emotional abuse and neglect to physical and sexual violence – have been reported so far this year.
Field studies by the women’s rights group KAFA (Enough Violence & Exploitation) estimate that 45 percent of children in Lebanon are subjected to physical violence annually and approximately 16 percent of children have experienced some form of sexual harassment or abuse.
“Unfortunately there are fierce monsters among us who do not hesitate to do anything [resort to violence] and often our children pay the price of social or economic burdens,” Abu Faour continued, noting that President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and himself have specially adopted the cause of children’s rights.
The campaign, entitled “No to violence against children,” was launched with the support of the first lady Wafaa Sleiman who called upon all levels of Lebanese society to work together “to establish a culture of humanity that rejects all forms of violence, especially violence against children.”
Echoing Abu Faour in her remarks, Sleiman stressed the “need to approve a law specific to cases of domestic violence that would limit child abuse.”
She highlighted the importance of action at all levels – whether by the government, civil society or individuals who witness child abuse.
The campaign, which includes TV spots, posters, a Facebook page and other media platforms, calls upon society to participate in awareness efforts by reporting suspected cases of abuse to the Social Affairs Ministry hotline. The hotline (1714) is constantly monitored and reports are followed up by ministry employees.
The awareness campaign materials – designed in part by the LOWE pimo media group – show bruised and injured boys and girls under the tag line “My dream? To live without fear.”
Pamphlets provide definitions of children’s rights, different types of abuse and their long-lasting effects.
Two television spots were screened at the ceremony: one shows the emotional effects of abuse on children and another depicts an argument between parents resulting in an episode of domestic violence.
As a part of the awareness campaign, the first lady highlighted that violence against children can take on many forms. Child abuse is not only physical violence or sexual harassment, she said, but also occurs when children are blocked from education, forced into work as minors, traumatized by civil conflict and denied unpolluted environments to play and express themselves.
Given this variety of harm, Sleiman said “the responsibility for any violence against children in Lebanon lies on the entire society,” but that Lebanese law must also set stricter penalties for parents and other perpetrators of abuse.
“Using cruelty as a tool for discipline is no longer acceptable in our day and age,” the first lady announced. “We need firmer laws to protect [children], even from those closest to them.”
To report abuse call the Social Affairs Ministry hotline at 1714. More information is available on the “No to violence against children-Lebanon” Facebook page.