UNICEF and Save the Children: Urgent Action Needed to Tackle Child Labor Caused by Syrian Crisis

July 2, 2015

NEW YORK (July 1, 2015) - The conflict and humanitarian crisis in Syria are pushing an ever increasing number of children into exploitation in the labor market, and much more needs to be done to reverse the trend, according to a new report released by Save the Children and UNICEF.

The report shows that inside Syria, children are now contributing to the family income in more than three quarters of surveyed households.[1] In Jordan, close to half of all Syrian refugee children are now the joint or sole family breadwinners in surveyed households. Children as young as six years old are reportedly working in some parts of Lebanon.[2] The most vulnerable of all working children are those involved in particularly harmful activities like armed conflict, commercial sexual exploitation and illicit activities, including organized begging and child trafficking.

“The Syria crisis has dramatically reduced family livelihood opportunities and impoverished millions of households in the region, resulting in child labor reaching critical levels,” says Dr. Roger Hearn, Regional Director for Save the Children in the Middle East and Eurasia.

“As families become increasingly desperate, children are working primarily for their survival. Whether in Syria or neighboring countries, they are becoming main economic players.”

The report finds that a spiralling number of children are employed in harmful working conditions, risking serious damage to their health and wellbeing.

“Child labor hinders children’s growth and development as they toil for long hours with little pay, often in extremely hazardous and unhealthy environments,” says Dr. Peter Salama, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Carrying heavy loads, being exposed to pesticides and toxic chemicals, and working long hours—these are just some of the hazards working children face every day around the region.”

Three out of four working children surveyed in Jordan’s vast Za’atari refugee camp have reported health problems at work, according to the report.[3] A further 22 percent of children casually employed in the agricultural sector in Mafraq and the Jordan Valley have also been injured while working.[4]

Moreover, children who work are more likely to drop out of school—adding to fears of a “lost generation” of Syrian children.

UNICEF and Save the Children call on partners and champions of the No Lost Generation Initiative, the wider international community, host governments, and civil society to undertake a series of measures to address child labor inside Syria and in countries affected by the humanitarian crisis.

  • Improve access to livelihoods including through making more funding available for income-generating activities
  • Provide quality and safe education for all children affected by the crisis
  • Prioritize ending the worst forms of child labor
  • Invest in strengthening national and community-based child protection systems and services

“Syria’s children are paying a heavy price for the world’s failure to put an end to the conflict”, the report concludes.

Notes to Editors
Through the ‘No Lost Generation’ initiative launched in 2013, UNICEF, Save the Children, and other partners aimed at putting child protection and education initiatives at the center of the humanitarian response to the Syria crisis with the commitment to reverse the trend of a “lost generation.” Child labor represents one of the key challenges to the achievement of that commitment.

An estimated two million children are now living outside Syria as refugees.[5]

Syria was a middle-income country before the war. The country’s economy was capable of providing a decent living for most of its people; almost all children in Syria went to school, and literacy rates were over 90%.[6]

Five years into the conflict, the country is beset with destitution and misery, with four in five people in Syria estimated to be living in poverty and 7.6 million internally displaced in 2014.

Unemployment rates surged from 14.9 percent in 2011 to 57.7 percent by the end of 2014.

An estimated 64.7% of people in Syria were living in extreme poverty in 2014, unable to meet basic food and non-food needs.[7]

Neighboring countries are also suffering the dire consequences of this humanitarian crisis, with the influx of 4 million refugees.

About UNICEF
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to put children first. UNICEF has helped save more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization, by providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when no children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.

For more information, contact:
Susannah Masur, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9146, smasur@unicefusa.org


[1] CPWG, Syria Child Protection Assessment, 2013

[3] UNICEF and SCI, 2014, Baseline Assessment of Child Labour among Syrian Refugees in Za’atari Refugee Camp Jordan.

[4] ILO, ‘Rapid assessment on child labour in the agricultural sector in Mafraq and the Jordan Valley’ (Ghor), June 2012-February 2014, p. 52

[6] SC: Futures under threat