Two Syrians walk along a fence near the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey, November 30, 2016. Syrians who arrived in Turkey since late 2017 have been unable to register for temporary protection and receive basic services.

© 2016 Umit Bektas/Reuters
(Istanbul) – Turkish authorities in Istanbul and nine provinces on or near the Syrian border have stopped registering all but a handful of recently arrived Syrian asylum seekers. The suspension is leading to unlawful deportations, coerced returns to Syria, and the denial of health care and education.

The European Commission has recently praised Turkey’s asylum system and plans to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 migration deal which includes support for refugees in Turkey. European Union institutions and governments have stayed publicly silent on the suspension and other refugee abuses committed by Turkey, suggesting their primary concern is to halt the movement of asylum seekers and migrants from Turkey to the EU.

“While the EU supports Turkey to deter asylum seekers from reaching Europe, it’s turning a blind eye to Turkey’s latest steps to block and discourage people fleeing Syria,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee program director at Human Rights Watch. “But forcing Syrians who manage to get past Turkey’s border guards to live in legal limbo only risks driving them underground and onward to the EU.”

Syrian refugees queue for food aid in Gaziantep, Turkey on May 20, 2016. Turkey’s suspension of Syrian refugee registration blocks them from receiving such aid.

© 2016 Kyodo/ AP Images
The suspension of registration is Turkey’s latest effort to deny new asylum seekers protection. Over the past three years, Turkey has sealed off its border with Syria, while Turkish border guards continue to carry out mass summary pushbacks and to kill and injure Syrians as they try to cross.

Between early 2011 and the end of May 2018, Turkey had registered almost 3.6 million Syrians, making it the world’s largest refugee hosting country. That generosity does not absolve it, or its international partners, of the duty to help newly arrived asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said. 

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrians in Turkey’s Hatay province about their attempts to register for a temporary protection permit in Hatay, Gaziantep, and Istanbul provinces. A permit protects Syrians from arrest and the risk of deportation. It also entitles them to get health care and education, to work, and to seek social assistance, including the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net for the most vulnerable Syrians.

Syrians said Turkish police deported them in groups of up to 20 people for not having a permit and that hospitals and schools refused to take them in without permits. Some said they returned to Syria so they, or their relatives, could get urgent medical care. Others said they decided to return to Syria because only some family members had been able to register. All said, they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and severely restricted their movement to avoid the police.

Turkey is bound by the international customary law rule of nonrefoulement, which prohibits the return of anyone in any manner whatsoever to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture or other ill-treatment, or a threat to life. This includes asylum seekers, who are entitled to have their claims fairly adjudicated and not be summarily returned to places where they fear harm. Turkey may not coerce people into returning to places where they face harm by denying them legal status or access to essential services.

On October 30, 2017, the Hatay governor’s office said that to discourage smugglers from helping Syrians enter Turkey through Hatay, the province would no longer register newly arriving Syrians for temporary protection permits. In early February 2018, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said Istanbul province would also no longer register Syrians.

Eight other provinces on or near the Syrian border have also suspended registration for newly arriving Syrians since late 2017 or early 2018, according to three agencies working closely with Syrian refugees, as well as a European Commission official and a Turkish public official who previously worked on migration issues. The provinces are Adana, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaraş, Kilis, Mardin, Mersin, Osmaniye, and Şanlıurfa.

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© 2018 DigitalGlobe and © 2018 Human Rights Watch

Since late August 2015, only registered Syrians who obtain a special travel permit have been allowed to travel within Turkey. In practice, the vast majority of Syrian asylum seekers enter Turkey irregularly through the few remaining gaps in Turkey’s border wall in Hatay province. Blocked from registering there, they are unable to lawfully leave Hatay province and travel to other provinces where registration has not been closed. This forces them to live illegally in Hatay province, or to use smugglers to reach other parts of Turkey, risking arrest and deportation.

According to three confidential sources, Turkey has rejected proposals for a new system that would allow Syrians arriving in Hatay, and to a far lesser extent in other border provinces, to register in other parts of Turkey where fewer refugees live.

Refugee agencies told Human Rights Watch that Turkey’s strict controls on international and local refugee agencies prevent them from finding and helping unregistered Syrians. This lack of aid agency monitoring means that there are no statistics or estimates on the numbers of Syrians denied registration, deported, or refused urgently needed services.

In response to a June 13 letter presenting the Human Rights Watch findings, the migration authorities in Ankara denied that any of the country’s 81 provinces, including Hatay and Istanbul, had suspended registration of Syrians. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Human Rights Watch that as of mid-May, the authorities had reassured them that registration of Syrians was ongoing, including in Hatay and Istanbul. Other aid agencies that support refugees say that the authorities in the 10 provinces have only continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension, and to register urgent medical cases referred from Syria and babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey. Two refugee aid agencies also said that in some cases they have managed to convince the authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye provinces to register particularly vulnerable unregistered Syrians.

In early 2018, the authorities in Hatay opened a new registration center in Antakya. Representatives of three aid agencies and two Turkish security personnel working in Antakya said the center is exclusively for unregistered Syrians to request help to return to Syria, while registered Syrians can request help to return at other migration authority-run centers.

Turkey does not allow any independent monitoring of whether unregistered Syrians signing up for return are in fact returning voluntarily or whether they are effectively being coerced. In contrast, Turkey does allow independent monitoring of some registered Syrians’ decision to return to Syria.

Turkey should protect the basic rights of all newly arriving Syrians, regardless of registration status, and register those denied registration since late 2017. The European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should support Turkey to register and protect Syrians and press Turkey to allow all agencies working for refugees to freely assist and help protect all Syrians, including all unregistered Syrians.

“Unregistered Syrians in Turkey may be conveniently out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind,” Simpson said. “EU states and the commission should speak up and support all Syrians in Turkey, not just those who got in before Turkey started driving them underground.”

For more details about Turkey’s suspension of Syrian asylum seeker registration, please see below.

Asylum Seeker Registration

The first Syrian refugees fled to Turkey in early 2011 and in the subsequent three-and-a-half years, Turkey adopted an ad hoc approach to their registration, without conferring a clear legal status with related rights. Although Turkey ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the country maintains a geographical limitation that excludes anyone not originally from a European country from full refugee recognition. That means it does not fully grant asylum to people fleeing violence or persecution in Syria and any other non-European country.

In 2013, Turkey adopted its own legal framework on the protection of asylum seekers and refugees. In October 2014, Turkey also adopted a regulation under which it grants Syrians temporary protection. As of June 28, 2018, Turkey said it had registered 3,562,523 people under the regulation. Registered Syrians are entitled to assistance. Even though the regulation says Syrians who fail to register will not be deported to Syria and will only face an “administrative fine,” Human Rights Watch found that unregistered Syrians have been deported for not having temporary protection permits.

The Hatay governor’s office and the interior minister said registration has been suspended for newly arriving Syrians in Hatay and Istanbul. Refugee aid agencies and Syrians in Hatay’s main city, Antakya, told Human Rights Watch that police carried out mass arrests of Syrians in November and early December, just after registration was suspended.

Five sources told Human Rights Watch that since late 2017 and early 2018, migration authorities in eight other border provinces followed suit and turned away all newly arriving Syrians seeking registration.

As of June 28, seven of the provinces that suspended registration were in the top 10 provinces hosting Syrians: Adana, Gaziantep, Hatay, Istanbul, Kilis, Mersin, and Şanlıurfa. Together they were sheltering 2,422,804 registered Syrians, or 68 percent of the total in Turkey. The other three – Kahramanmaraş, Mardin, and Osmaniye – were sheltering 235,549, or just under seven percent.

Aid agencies say that, in practice, the authorities in affected provinces continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension and to register people with urgent medical needs referred from Syria. They also continued to register babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey, an estimated 306 each day. Agencies with first-hand knowledge of the suspension of registration in the 10 provinces say the registration of these Syrians may explain the claim authorities made to Human Rights Watch that eight of the provinces on or near the border registered a total of 116,059 Syrians between November 1 and June 20.

One refugee aid agency with close knowledge of registration procedures in all of Turkey’s provinces told Human Rights Watch that in a few exceptional cases, authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye province have registered children in urgent need of medical care, together with one caregiver. Another refugee assistance agency that sometimes deals with unregistered Syrians said that between late 2017 and late April 2018, it had convinced the Hatay authorities to register a few dozen newly arrived Syrians on an exceptional basis because they had specific needs, but that even then it was a “headache” to get them through police checkpoints to registration offices. Agencies estimate that as of mid-May, the total number of such vulnerable cases of unregistered Syrians whom the authorities have registered on an exceptional basis was in the low hundreds.

Turkey’s travel permit system for registered Syrians prohibits unregistered Syrians from traveling from border provinces to register elsewhere. Seven Syrians told Human Rights Watch they paid smugglers to drive them from Antakya, in Hatay province, to Istanbul to register. But security officials at migration authority offices in Istanbul told them registration had been suspended for newly arriving Syrians.

UNHCR and some diplomats in Turkey told Human Rights Watch they have been encouraging Turkey’s Directorate General for Migration Management to adopt a referral system under which authorities in Hatay, or other border provinces where Syrians first arrive, would pre-register Syrians and then refer them to other provinces where fewer Syrians live to register. Some EU member states have proposed that if such a system were to be adopted, the EU should help support job-creation for Syrians and Turkish citizens in the provinces to which Syrians are referred. But all attempts to convince Turkey to set up a referral system have failed.

Consequences of Suspended Registration

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrian asylum seekers in Antakya, the capital of Hatay Province, and the first city most Syrians reach after being smuggled across the closed Turkish border. They said the authorities in Antakya, the nearby town of Reyhanli, and in Gaziantep province had refused to register them during the first few months of 2018. They also described how not having a temporary protection permit – or “kimlik,” as it is popularly called (a Turkish shorthand for identification card) – had affected them. Human Rights Watch explained the purpose of the interviews, gave assurances of anonymity, and obtained interviewees’ consent to describe their experiences.

All said they were turned away from registration offices at least twice. Only three said they managed to register after brokers bribed registration officials between US$300 and $500.

Most said officials simply said “no more kimliks here” or “no one gets a kimlik” and told them to leave. Two said they also tried to register in Gaziantep in April, but that saw a sign on the office that said “no kimliks.”

Four said that only some members of their family had been registered, leaving the rest in legal limbo and that as a result, the entire family was contemplating returning to Syria. One man said his sick wife was given permission to enter Turkey for emergency medical treatment in Antakya, and was allowed to register there, together with their newborn baby. When he and their five other children, aged 6 to 14, managed to enter Turkey and tried to register in Antakya, they were turned away.

Three Syrians said that Turkish police had previously summarily deported them to Syria for not having a temporary protection permit. One, a 22-year-old man from Aleppo governorate, said he entered Turkey in early April and was refused registration in Antakya. In early May, he said, police stopped him at about 8 a.m. near the Antakya bus station and asked for his permit. When he said he tried to register, but had been turned away, the police drove him to a local police station, recorded his personal details, and then drove him and about 20 other unregistered Syrians to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported them. He said 15 of the 20 told him they had been caught without temporary protection permits in Istanbul and the other five said they had just entered Turkey a few days earlier and were arrested after arriving at a smuggler’s house in Antakya. A few days later, he managed to return to Turkey with smugglers.

Another former deportee, a 28-year-old man from Idlib, said he and his brother entered Turkey together in January and were denied registration in Antakya. He said his brother traveled with a smuggler to Istanbul to find work there, but Turkish police arrested him on May 17 and the next day, took him to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported him.

On May 22, Human Rights Watch spoke to a 31-year-old man from Hama who said the authorities in Antakya had arrested his brother a few hours earlier, were holding him in the new center for unregistered Syrians to sign up to return to Syria, and said they were about to deport him. Human Rights Watch alerted UNHCR, which intervened and prevented the deportation.

Human Rights Watch interviewed four Syrians at the newly established center for unregistered Syrians who wish to sign up for return to Syria. They decided to go back because their relatives had been denied urgent medical care, or because some family members who arrived after registration was suspended could not register.

Two Syrians said they heard from other Syrians in Antakya about many cases in which the wives of men who had been deported told Turkish authorities they planned to go back to Syria because they and their children could not survive alone in Turkey.

All of the 29 other unregistered Syrians interviewed said they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and said they heard of many cases involving the deportation of unregistered Syrians. Eight said they reduced their movements to a minimum, often staying at home for days at a time. A 17-year-old boy who said he never left his uncle’s house in Antakya out of fear of arrest said “this feels like prison.”

Three unregistered Syrians said they regularly use Syrian-owned driving services which use back roads to avoid police checkpoints or informal police stop-and-search patrols in Antakya.

Nine said they attempted to get medical treatment in clinics and hospitals in Antakya, but had been refused treatment because they were not registered. Four others said they did not even try to access medical care, because they heard others were turned away, and because they were afraid local hospitals would call the police to arrest them for not having a permit.

A 27-year-old woman from Idlib province seeking cancer treatment said two hospitals in Antakya refused to treat her because she did not have a permit.

A 34-year-old, eight months’ pregnant woman from Aleppo, with four children all born by caesarean section, said she was too afraid to go to the local hospital to ask for a checkup and prepare for her delivery, because she had been told hospitals turn away unregistered Syrians and was afraid of being arrested and returned to Syria.

Similarly, a 31-year-old woman whose entire family was refused registration in March said her husband was extremely sick with a serious lung condition, but he would not go to a hospital out of fear of being arrested and deported. She said he never left the house and lived in constant fear of being discovered.

A nongovernmental organization working with Syrians in Hatay province said that during the first few months of 2018, they heard of dozens of cases of Syrians in Antakya seeking emergency medical care, many of them pregnant women, who were turned away by hospitals because they had been denied registration.

Six Syrians interviewed by Human Rights Watch said their children were unable to go to school, because schools would only take registered Syrians.

Nowhere to Turn for Help

The Turkish authorities consider Syrians denied registration to be in the country unlawfully. Nongovernmental groups working with refugees said the government only allows them to work with lawfully present asylum seekers and refugees.

Six organizations working with refugees in Turkey’s provinces on the Syrian border – which asked to remain anonymous for the staff’s security – said Turkey strictly controls and monitors their work in various ways.

Some said they must get special permission to assess registered Syrians’ assistance needs or to visit registered Syrians’ homes, in some cases in the presence of staff from the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. The agencies said the rules are applied in an ad hoc and unpredictable way, depending on the local authorities, and they are never certain of what refugee outreach activities are allowed.

As a result, they said, they found it difficult to identify Syrians blocked from registration procedures, including the most vulnerable, for example those in urgent need of medical or other care. They also said the situation in Hatay province – through which almost all newly arriving Syrians using smugglers enter the country due to continued gaps in the border wall – is particularly sensitive.

Because of the restrictions imposed by the Turkish authorities, aid agencies said they cannot proactively identify unregistered Syrian refugees. At best, they can only react if they are made aware of unregistered Syrians who are seeking help, or if they come across them by chance. They said they sometimes raise the most vulnerable of such cases with the authorities in the hope that they will allow those in urgent need to register.

One agency working in the border areas said: “It’s very simple, we can’t just reach out to registered or unregistered Syrians. We need approval for everything and we’d never get approval to help unregistered Syrians.” Another agency worker said: “We have repeatedly asked the authorities for permission to do protection outreach work, but we’ve been refused every time.”

Agencies said their extremely limited contact with unregistered Syrians means they can neither estimate how many unregistered Syrians now live in Hatay and other provinces, nor the extent to which the registration suspension has led to deportation and denial of service access. EU member states and other donors funding Syrian refugee assistance and protection projects in Turkey therefore don’t know the extent to which Turkey’s registration suspension is excluding Syrians from receiving help.

European Union Remains Silent

EU member states and the European Commission have remained publicly silent on Turkey’s registration suspension, as they have on Turkey’s long-standing abuses against Syrian asylum seekers at the border.

Turkey’s suspension of registration could drive many Syrians underground and onward to the EU, or coerce them into going back to Syria. The suspension, Turkey’s ongoing border abuses, and its recent abuses against Afghan asylum seekers means that any attempts to return Syrians from Greece to Turkey is also likely to be met with significant resistance by lawyers challenging return attempts on the grounds that Turkey is not a safe third country to which to return asylum seekers.

On April 17, the European Commission released its latest update on whether Turkey is meeting the EU’s criteria for becoming an EU member state. As part of its assessment of Turkey’s asylum system, the commission said: “There have been reports of alleged expulsions, returns and deportations of Syrian nationals, in contradiction of the non-refoulement principle,” without going into any further details or citing the sources.

In March, the European Commission promised to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 deal with Turkey. Under the deal, the EU maintains that Turkey is a safe country to which to return Syrian asylum seekers. In fact, Turkey does not meet the EU safe third country criteria.

Recommendations

Turkey should resume temporary protection registration for all newly arriving Syrians and register those denied access to registration since late 2017. If necessary, Turkey should pre-register Syrians in its provinces on the Syrian border and require Syrians to move to, and live in, other provinces with fewer Syrians. In the meantime, Turkey should instruct all medical facilities to provide emergency medical treatment to any Syrian in need, regardless of registration status. Schools should also take in Syrian children pending their registration. All Turkish public officials should refer unregistered Syrians to the nearest registration center.

Turkey should also allow all refugee agencies working with Syrians to actively work to identify unregistered Syrians, help them access registration procedures, and raise with the authorities all cases of unregistered Syrians deported to Syria or denied access to health care and education.

To help ensure protection for Syrians in Turkey, the European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should press Turkey to resume registration of all newly arriving Syrians and guarantee their access to health care and education in line with existing policies. If Turkey requires help to resume registration, they should respond generously. They should also press Turkey to allow all agencies working with refugees to freely carry out protection monitoring work throughout Turkey to identify and assist unregistered Syrians and to publicly report on any abuses, including forced return to Syria, and denial of assistance.

Finally, the European Commission should proactively seek information and publicly report on credible accounts of killings, injuries, and mass deportations by Turkish security forces at the Syrian border, including in its regular reports on Turkey’s accession process and the European Agenda on Migration.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
 
Video

France: Migrant Kids Left to Sleep in the Street

Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant youths, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to. Hundreds of unaccompanied children sleep on the streets of Paris each night, according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations.

(Paris) – Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant children, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Hundreds of these young migrants find themselves homeless, often condemned to sleep on the streets of Paris.

The 57-page report, “‘Like a Lottery’: Arbitrary Treatment of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Paris”, found that arbitrary practices can lead to unaccompanied children being erroneously considered adults, leaving then ineligible for emergency shelter and other protection given to children. Many youths who request protection from the child welfare system are turned away summarily and inaccurately, based on appearance alone. Others are rejected without written decisions after interviews lasting as little as five minutes, contrary to French regulations.
 

“These children have suffered through incredibly difficult and dangerous journeys, only to be deprived of the protection and care they need,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Deeply flawed procedures mean that children may be arbitrarily turned away at the door of the evaluation office, denied protection after a short interview, or tied up in arduous court procedures and left in limbo for months.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 49 unaccompanied children and reviewed age assessments in an additional 35 cases. Human Rights Watch also spoke with lawyers, health care providers, staff and volunteers of humanitarian agencies and informal associations, and government officials.

Youths who receive full interviews are often denied recognition as children if they lack identity documents, Human Rights Watch found. But international standards and French regulations establish that the primary method of establishing approximate age should be through interviews, recognizing that documents may be lost during arduous journeys.

Even those who have documents are frequently rejected. Child welfare authorities and judges question birth certificates, passports, and other identity documents despite the rule in French law that such documents are presumptively valid unless there are substantiated reasons to believe otherwise.

The review of case files found other invalid grounds for concluding that a person was an adult. Work in the home country or on the journey to Europe was frequently cited, even though millions of children around the world work, including in hazardous or harmful forms of labor. Child protection authorities also often cited the youth’s decision to travel without parents, though many thousands of children travel on their own to Europe each year.

In other cases, examiners told youths from French-speaking countries that they spoke French too well. Imrane O., from Côte d’Ivoire, who gave his age as 15, told Human Rights Watch that his examiner “said that I was answering her questions too well. Because I could answer her questions, I couldn’t be a minor. How is that? I did eight years of schooling, in French. Of course I could answer her questions.”

In the cases studied, child protection authorities also frequently relied on subjective factors such as “bearing” or comportment. Some youths received adverse age assessments based in part on expressing irritation with repeated questioning or presenting their case forcefully, behaviors that can be exhibited at any age. Many more were simply told they had the bearing of an adult, without further explanation.

When children seek review of adverse decisions, some judges regularly order bone tests to determine their age. Medical bodies in France and elsewhere have repeatedly found that bone and other medical examinations are not a reliable means of determining age, particularly for older adolescents, and have called for ending their use.

The cumulative effect of arbitrary decision-making is that age assessments in Paris are “like a lottery: sometimes you win, but most of the time you lose, even if you’re underage,” an aid worker with the nongovernmental organization Utopia 56 told Human Rights Watch.

The number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in Paris, as well as in France overall, has increased in recent years. France’s child welfare system took just under 15,000 unaccompanied migrant children into care in 2017. Nearly half of unaccompanied children who seek protection from the child welfare system in France do so in Paris. In February 2018, when Human Rights Watch began this research, an estimated 400 unaccompanied children were “sleeping rough” (outside) in the French capital, , according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations. Current estimates are lower.

Ordinary citizens, on their own and in groups, have stepped in to address some of these children’s needs, providing food and other services, organizing football clubs, improvisational theatre, and other activities, and in some cases opening their homes to give children a place to stay for a night or two, or even longer.

But these laudable efforts, along with services provided by nongovernmental groups such as Médécins sans Frontières and Utopia 56, depend on volunteers and cannot meet the need. In contrast, France has both the means and the obligation to provide appropriate care and protection to all children within French territory, regardless of migration status.

French national and departmental authorities should ensure that age assessments are used only when authorities have well-founded doubts about an individual’s claim to be under 18, Human Rights Watch said. In such cases, they should take appropriate steps to determine age and establish eligibility for services, bearing in mind that all age assessments will be estimates. These steps should include interviews by professionals with the expertise to work with children, as international standards recommend.

France also should end the use of bone tests and similar discredited medical examinations.

“Instead of giving youths the benefit of the doubt, as they should, child protection services seem to be doing everything they can to exclude youths from the child care system,” Jeannerod said. “The French authorities should immediately put an end to arbitrary age decisions and provide sufficient resources to take care of and protect unaccompanied migrant children.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) – The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws.

Helal, 10, works as a brick maker at a brick kiln outside Kabul. He told Human Rights Watch that the brick mold is heavy and his hands hurt working with wet clay. Helal doesn’t go to school because he has to work. 

© 2016 Bethany Matta/Human Rights Watch

The 31-page report, “‘They Bear All the Pain’: Hazardous Child Labor in Afghanistan,” documents how child workers work dangerous jobs in Afghanistan’s carpet industry; as bonded labor in brick kilns; and as metal workers. They perform tasks that could result in illness, injury, or even death due to hazardous working conditions and poor enforcement of safety and health standards. Many children who work under those conditions combine the burdens of a job with school, or forego education altogether. Working compels many children in Afghanistan to leave school prematurely. Only half of children involved in child labor attend school. 

“Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.”

Video

Video: Kids at Work, Out of School in Afghanistan

The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws. 

The government has failed to enforce prohibitions against child labor in hazardous industries, and has stalled in its effort to overhaul its labor law to bring it into line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. Government institutions responsible for enforcing the law often lack the capacity to inspect workplaces, with the result that children working in prohibited jobs go unnoticed and unprotected.

In 2014, the Afghan government published a list of 19 hazardous occupations prohibited for children. These jobs include carpet weaving, metal work, and brick making. While a lack of resources is an important factor in the persistence of child labor in hazardous industries, the Afghan government has also failed to enforce its labor laws through penalties for violators and a strategy to end exploitative labor conditions.

A brick kiln manager in Kabul told Human Rights Watch: “There are children here, starting from 10 years or 8 years of age to 15 or 16… They wake up at 3 in the morning and work until about evening… They complain of pain, but what can they do? The kids are here to make a living. They bear all the pain to do all the work.”

Extreme poverty often drives Afghan children into hazardous labor. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Landlessness, illiteracy, high unemployment, and continuing armed conflict in much of the country are among the most important factors contributing to chronic poverty and, as a result, child labor.

A 13-year-old metal worker in Kabul said, “My fingers have been cut from the sharp edges of the metal and slammed by the hammer. My finger has also been caught in the trimming-beading machine. When your nail gets hit by a hammer or caught in the machine, it becomes black and eventually falls off.”

Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table. The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.

Phelim Kine

Deputy Director, Asia Division

While work that is appropriate to a child’s age and under healthy and safe conditions can be beneficial to the child’s development and allow them to contribute to their family’s basic needs, work that interferes with a child’s education, or is likely to jeopardize their health or safety, is generally considered “child labor” and is prohibited under international law.

Although pilot projects extending community-based schools to reach vulnerable children have been promising, support for these schools is inadequate to the need. Eradicating child labor in Afghanistan is not feasible so long as extreme poverty continues, but the government and its donors can take steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

Those steps include increasing the number of labor inspectors to adequately cover the entire country; giving priority to monitoring hazardous sectors; and offering the Afghan government targeted technical assistance in devising and implementing policies, standards, and regulations against child labor. Both the government and its foreign donors should devote more resources to expanding educational support to all working children.

The government has a legal obligation under international law to take immediate action to eradicate hazardous child labor. Both Afghanistan and its foreign donors should take urgent steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

“When children are of legal age and work in safe conditions, they can help provide vital livelihood support for many Afghan families,” Kine said. “But the Afghan government has an obligation to enforce the laws that protect children in the workplace, and ensure that they neither have to sacrifice their education or safety as the price for supporting their families.”
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zama Neff is the executive director of the children's rights division of Human Rights Watch. She also co-chairs the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). Neff has conducted fact-finding investigations and is the author of reports and articles on a range of issues affecting children, including access to education, police violence, refugee protection, the worst forms of child labor, and discrimination against women and girls. She has published on op-ed pages in major international and US publications and speaks regularly to the media. During a sabbatical, she ran a protection monitoring team for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Sri Lanka. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1999, Neff clerked for a US federal judge, advocated on behalf of immigrants and refugees in the US, and worked with community development and women's organizations in Honduras. She is a graduate of Davidson College and New York University School of Law.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Corporal punishment was banned decades ago in Lebanon’s schools, but children still have to choose between suffering abuse or missing out on an education.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
 
(Beirut) – Lebanon’s ban on school staff hitting, verbally abusing, or otherwise inflicting pain on schoolchildren in the name of discipline is often disregarded.

The 64-page report, “‘I Don’t Want My Child to Be Beaten’: Corporal Punishment in Lebanon’s Schools,” finds that children suffer from corporal punishment at school because of a lack of accountability for the abusers. Human Rights Watch said that Lebanon should enforce a longstanding ban on corporal punishment and proposed ways in which the Education Ministry, with support from international donors, can end the abuse.

“Corporal punishment was banned decades ago in Lebanon’s schools, but children still have to choose between suffering abuse or missing out on an education,” said Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Adults are beating children in Lebanon’s schools, and that urgently needs to change.”

The report, based on 51 documented cases at both public and private schools across Lebanon of children who suffered violence, found that common punishments include humiliation, insults, and slapping or striking with the hand. Some children reported more severe abuse, including beatings with sticks, rubber hoses, and electrical cables, and cases in which so-called “discipline” spiraled into serious assault and harm.

One teacher hit a boy in the face with a book, knocking out two teeth, after he asked to use the bathroom. Another boy said his teacher whipped his hand with an electrical cable, causing a deep wound that was “bleeding for a few days.” A teacher gave a girl such “an intense beating” that her face was swollen and “red like tomatoes” when she went home hours later, her father said. In none of the cases documented in the report did school staff notify the children’s parents about what had happened.

The Education Ministry banned corporal punishment in the 1970s, and since 2014 there has been no defense for the crime of assault by school staff against students in Lebanon’s penal code. However, parents who complained said school officials typically rebuffed them, and in some cases teachers or the school director hit the child again in retaliation. In some cases, parents complained to the police without result. The Education Ministry did not refer any of the cases documented in the report for criminal investigation.

Corporal punishment can cause both short-term pain and suffering, and long-lasting harm. In a 2018 article, four Lebanese pediatricians said they had found that violent discipline can predispose children to “aggression, delinquency and conjugal violence later in life,” as well as antisocial behavior, anxiety disorders, and problems into adulthood such as depression and suicidal tendencies. In contrast, “no studies have demonstrated a positive long-term effect of corporal punishment.”

Instead of helping a boy suffering side-effects from cancer medication who was having trouble with his lessons, a teacher insulted him, pulled his hair, and forced him to stand outside. Another boy’s teacher broke his nose after he asked why she was hitting another student. The boy’s mother, upset that the school only temporarily suspended the teacher, transferred her son to another school. His mother told Human Rights Watch that it took him a month after starting at a new school to understand that all teachers were not like the one who hit him.

Syrian refugee children may be particularly vulnerable to abuse amid a xenophobic political climate, Human Rights Watch found. Syrian children said that in addition to beatings, school staff insulted their national origin, and in several cases prohibited them from using the bathroom. All families in one Syrian refugee community stopped sending their children to a local public school for a week in early 2018 because of such abuses, until the school promised to end the beatings and allow the children to use the bathroom.

The Education Ministry warned in 2014 that with increasing numbers of Syrian refugee students, “existing corporal punishment practices are likely to make violence an increasing resort” for under-prepared teachers, citing a UN assessment that found more than 70 percent of children across the country suffered violent discipline at school. In 2018, the numbers of Syrian and Lebanese children in public schools were almost equal, at roughly 210,000 each.

The Education Ministry established a hotline and referral system for complaints of violence in schools, but families said they typically received minimal or no information about how or whether the complaints were handled. One Syrian family that complained said school staff threatened to report them to the police if they persisted. Like most Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the family lacked legal residency.

In May 2018, the Education Ministry issued a policy for protecting children in school, which reiterated the ban on corporal punishment. The policy is a positive step, and will be implemented in all schools by 2020. But to end corporal punishment, the ministry should prioritize enforcement, Human Rights Watch said. Specific steps include improving complaint mechanisms; publishing information on complaints received, the result, and the penalties for abuse; working with nongovernmental groups to follow up cases; and ensuring that all teachers are effectively trained.

To ensure that parents and children feel they can complain safely, the Education Ministry should publicize its commitment to follow up on anonymous complaints. The ministry should agree on ways to respect children’s confidentiality while also sharing more information on complaints with nongovernmental organizations, which often refer the complaints and have resources and expertise that the education system lacks to follow-up cases.

“Teachers need proper training in how to discipline children without using violence, and students need a system that gives them their right to an education free from fear,” Van Esveld said. “With common-sense reforms, Lebanon could finally end corporal punishment in schools.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

 

Summary

When 10-year-old Charbel saw his teacher hitting another student, he asked “Why?”Instead of answering, his teacher grabbed him by the nose and yanked upwards, twice. When Charbel returned home, his face covered in blood, his mother was shocked. No one from the school had called to let her know that a teacher had broken her child’s nose, but other children’s parents did. The next day, she and other parents confronted the director of his private school, demanding action. The school suspended the teacher for two weeks. Another student’s mother said the teacher was notorious for violence against children. Charbel’s mother has since transferred her son to another school and filed a criminal complaint against the teacher. “There was nothing else I could do,” she said. “I don’t want my child to be beaten.”

Fadi was only 5 years old when he was diagnosed with leukemia. At his private school, the teachers understood that the illness and the medicine he had to take made it hard for him to focus, his mother said. That changed when Fadi’s family moved and enrolled him in the public school in another town. His new teacher called him a “donkey,” hit him and pulled his hair, and regularly made him stand outside the school in the cold as punishment for what she deemed inadequate academic performance. Fadi’s mother complained repeatedly, but the school director said that Fadi could not be given preferential treatment, refused to re-enroll him the next year, and said he should “go to a place [an institution] for children with intellectual disabilities.” Fadi said that the school director had also insulted him and pulled his hair. “There was no one else for me to complain to,” his mother said. They wrote an open letter to the Minister of Education, posted it on Facebook, and found a private school that offered scholarships, where Fadi enrolled. No one from the Education Ministry contacted her to ask about her son, she said.

Corporal punishment is physical abuse intended to make children suffer pain, humiliation, and fear in the name of discipline. Children interviewed in this report described how teachers whipped them on the hands, feet, and faces with implements including an electrical cable, a rubber hose, and a thick wooden stick; hit them on the back of the neck and head or slapped them in the face; pulled their hair and ears; slammed their heads into the school desk; and shoved them into the walls of classrooms or corridors. One child’s tooth was broken after a teacher hit him in the face with a stick. Another boy said a teacher beat him on the hand with an electric cable, causing a deep cut that “was bleeding for two or three days.” One boy suffered a broken nose. A teacher recalled that one student’s “fingernails popped off” after another teacher hit his fingertips with a ruler.

Children are entitled to go to school without fear of violence and intimidation from the adults entrusted with educating them. Violence at school not only does physical and mental harm but also harms children’s right to education. In cases documented in this report, children avoided or dropped out of school, or their parents pulled them out of school due to the pain, fear, humiliation, and risk of further harm from corporal punishment. Surveys show that corporal punishment is one of the leading factors behind school drop-outs in Lebanon.

While some teachers, as well as some parents, have claimed that corporal punishment is necessary to improve children’s behavior and academic achievement, decades of pediatric, psychiatric and other medical and scientific studies have shown that deliberately inflicting pain and humiliation on a child in the name of discipline conveys the message that disagreements should be resolved through violence and causes harms that vastly outweigh the supposed benefits to children, including “deteriorating peer relationships, difficulty with concentration, lowered school achievement, antisocial behavior, intense dislike of authority, somatic [physical or bodily] complaints, a tendency for school avoidance and school drop-out, and other evidence of negative high-risk adolescent behavior,” according to the US Society for Adolescent Medicine.

Lebanon’s Education Ministry has prohibited all forms of corporal punishment of students in public schools since 1974, and in 2001 issued a detailed circular, applicable to both public and private school staff, that bans corporal punishment as well as verbal abuse. Yet due to a lack of enforcement, surveys have found that widespread abuse persists. In 2011, a country-wide survey conducted by St. Joseph University, based in Beirut, found that 76 percent of 1,177 schoolchildren interviewed said they had been subjected to physical violence by teachers or administrators in schools, with the highest rates among younger, socially-vulnerable children in public schools. In some of the cases documented in this report, school directors responded to complaints of abuse not by disciplining the teachers responsible but by hitting the child again. One child recalled hiding under his desk from his teacher, who was beating him, and then being pulled out and beaten by the school director.

Since the conflict in Syria began in 2011, enrollment in Lebanon’s public schools has doubled, with roughly 210,000 Lebanese and 210,000 Syrian students in primary and secondary schools in 2018. (About 70 percent of Lebanese children attend private schools due to the perceived poor quality of public schools.) In 2014, the Ministry of Education’s national education plan cited a UNICEF assessment of 27 public and private schools that found more than 70 percent of students had been subjected to violence by teachers and warned that teachers who were “struggling to cope” with vastly increased numbers of Syrian students were likely to resort to corporal punishment. In one case that Human Rights Watch documented in early 2018, violence and humiliating treatment by school staff against Syrian children was so serious that nearly all the Syrian refugees living in one village stopped sending their children to a public school for one week, until the school director came to the community and promised that teachers would stop beating children and would allow them to use the bathrooms. An education specialist described another public school that had closed its afternoon shift for Syrian students because parents stopped sending their children due to violence and humiliating treatment of children by school staff. Another education expert said the scope of the problem was so significant that Syrian parents faced a choice between protecting their child from violence and access to education.

Lebanese criminal law has lagged behind the Education Ministry’s policy of prohibiting corporal punishment in schools. Until 2014, Lebanon’s penal code explicitly exempted teachers from liability for inflicting “culturally accepted” levels of physical pain on children in the name of discipline. Parliament amended the law and removed the exemption a month after a video went viral of a teacher beating boys on the feet with a stick as they pleaded for him to stop. But multiple reports and Human Rights Watch’s research indicate that the practice persists due to a lack of enforcement. In addition, the revised law still expressly permits parents to hit their children.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have called on Lebanon to ban all corporal punishment of children since 1998. After the 2014 amendments to the penal code, the Committee on the Rights of the Child urged Lebanon to make the prohibition of corporal punishment, “however light,” explicit “in all settings,” including public and private schools and in pre-primary and after-school education. Lebanon has not passed new legislation that explicitly criminalizes corporal punishment in schools.

In May 2018, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education launched a comprehensive child protection policy, after three years of development. The policy mandates school counsellors to identify and refer children who are victims of violence in the home, their community, or at school for appropriate follow-up. To implement the policy, the Education Ministry increased the number of senior counsellors from about 35 to 70 in the 2018-2019 school year; the counsellors provide trainings on tolerance, diversity, conflict resolution, and non-violent discipline to all staff and students at targeted schools. The policy explicitly prohibits all corporal punishment and should lead to improvements in responding to violence at school. Former Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh rightly said the policy was needed to remedy the impacts of violence in schools, including lower academic results and higher dropout rates.

The child protection policy represents a significant, positive step toward realizing children’s rights to a safe school environment. However, it does not sufficiently address the key problem of impunity for school teachers, supervisors, directors, and support staff who harm children in the name of discipline.

The child protection policy distinguishes abuses such as sexual assault at school, which require “immediate referral” to “external measures” (i.e. the police), from those requiring “internal” disciplinary measures. Only “internal measures,” which are not specified in the policy, are to be taken against “perpetrators of aggression or violence committed by members of the educational staff.” An Education Ministry official told Human Rights Watch that the disciplinary measures could include reprimands, delayed promotions, and docking of pay, but that termination of employment would be reserved for perpetrators of sexual abuse rather than corporal punishment.

The Education Ministry established a hotline for complaints about violence in schools, and a mechanism for NGOs to refer cases of violence at schools to the ministry’s headquarters in 2015. However, several civil society organizations said they resorted to complaining to public prosecutors after Education Ministry officials did not respond to referrals about violence in schools. In two cases documented for this report, parents filed complaints to police against school officials who allegedly beat students. The Justice Ministry said it did not record disaggregated data on cases of assault against children by school staff.

Another shortcoming undermining implementation, is that the child protection policy requires that all complaints of violence at school include the name of the child affected. While this information is only accessible to a small number of central and regional ministry staff and enjoins strict confidentiality, the policy’s inability to deal with anonymous complaints fails to appreciate that children who have complained of violence or whose cases have been referred to the ministry for follow-up, have been subjected to reprisals and further violence by school staff, a problem consistently described by Lebanese and Syrian parents and documented by educators and NGO child protection specialists. Staff at two NGOs said they had stopped referring cases of violence in schools to the Education Ministry altogether because of a pattern of a lack of ministerial follow-up and further violence against the students by school staff. “The reporting mechanism so far, it’s more harm than good,” one said.

In funding proposals to international donors, the Education Ministry has requested further resources for child protection at schools, including to protect students from corporal punishment. The ministry should work with donors to compensate for any budgetary shortfalls, but should also improve outcomes by involving civil society in trainings, monitoring, reporting and follow-up. NGO staff noted that their colleagues had skills that public schools needed, such as child psychiatrists. In several cases, the ministry has allowed NGOs to provide teacher trainings on non-violent discipline and children’s rights, and to place social workers, counsellors and other experts in public schools. But many NGOs complained of lack of transparency after they referred cases of violence in schools to the ministry for follow up. In some cases, NGO staff said, they only received acknowledgment of receipt of a referral from the ministry after months, along with a note that the case had been closed without any further explanation. “Child protection referrals disappear in the system and are impossible to follow up,” one NGO education expert said. “It’s a black box,” said another.

The Education Ministry insists that it must maintain the confidentiality of children whose cases are reported, but the current lack of action and transparency undermines the protection of children from violence, undercuts the ministry’s own child protection policy, and hinders civil society groups that try to enroll children in public schools from identifying and supporting children who subsequently drop out of school due to violence. The ministry should work with civil society to design a grievance reporting mechanism that allows children to report any abuses confidentially and safely without fear of reprisals. The mechanism should also enable NGOs to help families follow-up on complaints of violence in schools.

International donors have given hundreds of millions of euros to support education in Lebanon, including assisting the development of the child protection policy. They should press for accountability for violence in schools, support revisions to make the child protection policy more effective in this regard, and support the provision of teacher-training in positive discipline.

 

Recommendations

To the Lebanese Parliament:

  • Revoke article 186 of the Penal Code, which provides a defense for corporal punishment in the home;
  • Explicitly criminalize corporal punishment in all circumstances;
  • In consultation with Lebanese civil society and international experts, establish a comprehensive law on child protection.
  • In the interim, Revise Law 422 of 2002, the main piece of legislation on child protection, so that:
    • The law deems a child to be vulnerable and in need of protection when subjected to corporal punishment, regardless of whether it is deemed culturally acceptable (article 25);
    • The law obliges caregivers to report instances of child abuse, including by teachers.

To the Ministry of Justice:

In order to ensure school directors, teachers, children and families are aware that violence in school is unlawful and may be criminally prosecuted:

  • Publicly state that corporal punishment is completely prohibited in all educational institutions, public and private schools, and kindergartens, under the 2014 amendments to article 186 of the Penal Code that removed the defense from penalty for corporal punishment at school;
  • Prosecute and appropriately punish school staff responsible for violence against children in the name of discipline, and record disaggregated information about these cases.

To the Ministry of Education and Higher Education:

In order to achieve the goal of ending corporal punishment, and to empower students, parents, and civil society to uphold children’s rights:

  • Revise the 2018 child protection policy to explicitly notify school staff that resorting to corporal punishment could lead to criminal prosecution, as well as to administrative sanctions;
  • Publish the disciplinary measures that will be imposed on school staff responsible for violence and abuse of students, including school directors who fail to report abuses or to protect children from abusive staff, and ensuring that school directors, teachers, parents and students are informed of the offenses and corresponding disciplinary measures;
  • Publish the time-frames for each stage of the process of receiving and investigating complaints of violence by school staff, and inform staff, parents and NGOs of the time-frames;
  • In light of parents’ and students’ fears of reprisals by school staff for complaining about violence in schools, revise grievance mechanisms to allow for anonymous complaints to be accepted and investigated;
  • Prohibit reprisals by school staff against parents or students who complain of violence against children by the staff, and promptly investigate and punish any such reprisals;
    • Issue written instructions to school staff, as well as to the Ministries of Justice and the Interior, that school staff shall not report Syrian refugees whom they suspect lack legal residency in Lebanon to police, in order to pre-empt a form of reprisal that Syrian refugees fear and that has prevented them from reporting cases of violence in schools;
  • In cases where non-governmental organizations report abuses against children in schools, involve the organizations in ongoing investigations, as appropriate, and promptly update them as to the results of completed investigations and any disciplinary measures taken;
  • Publish statistics about complaints received on violence in schools, including corporal punishment, and about measures taken to respond to complaints, including disciplinary actions;
  • Provide effective, mandatory training on positive discipline for current and new school directors, teachers, counsellors, and other staff;
  • Consider re-establishing the role of Syrian teachers to act as “community education liaisons” in public schools, to ensure that Syrian parents and children are informed of their rights and obligations and can complain about corporal punishment and abuse by school staff.

To international donors to education in Lebanon:

  • Call on the government of Lebanon to ensure the effective prohibition of corporal punishment in schools;
  • Support access to education for all children in Lebanon at agreed funding levels according to the Reaching All Children with Education (RACE II) plan developed by the Education Ministry to respond to the Syria crisis for 2017-2021;
  • Ensure future education aid to Lebanon includes funding to support an effective ban on corporal punishment in schools, including training on positive discipline;
  • Encourage the Education Ministry to regularly publish statistics on violence in schools, including data on handling of complaints received of corporal punishment and verbal abuse by school staff;
  • Encourage the Education Ministry to release information not only to donors but also to be transparent with NGO education providers;
  • Encourage the Education Ministry to build on successful examples of cooperation with NGOs and to allow more NGOs to support the child protection policy by working with public schools.

 

Methodology

Human Rights Watch interviewed 51 children who said they had been beaten, verbally

abused, or humiliated by staff at public or private schools in 2018 and 2019, in seven of Lebanon’s eight governorates. In almost all cases children described a combination of verbal abuse and physical assault. The children interviewed for this report were identified primarily with the help of staff at Lebanese and international non-governmental organizations that provide counselling, non-formal education, or child-protection services; in all cases, these organizations obtained the consent of children and their parents to share their contact information with Human Rights Watch. During some of the interviews with parents and children, they also identified other children who had been assaulted or abused at school, whom researchers then followed up with. All of the children interviewed for this report were attending primary schools. The majority of children who were interviewed attended public schools, while 8 attended private schools; none of the children interviewed attended institutions supported by the Ministry of Social Affairs or schools for Palestinian children operated by UNRWA. Of the cases of corporal punishment at school Human Rights Watch documented through these interviews, 9 children had Lebanese nationality, and 42 were Syrian refugees.

The report is also based on interviews with three Lebanese public-school teachers, two private school teachers, and three Syrian teachers working as volunteers in Lebanese public schools as “education community liaisons.” In addition, Human Rights Watch interviewed eleven education and child protection staff at seven non-governmental organizations and two international humanitarian agencies, two Lebanese academic researchers, two Lebanese pediatric psychiatrists, and four officers with donor country agencies or international financial institutions providing funding to education in Lebanon. We also interviewed or corresponded with officials at the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education, the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Social Affairs, and the Ministry of Justice.

Where possible, interviews were conducted separately with children, and with one or both of their parents. In settings where private individual interviews were not possible, parents and children were interviewed together. Thirty-two of the interviews were conducted in February and May 2018; sixteen were conducted in October and November 2018, after the Education Ministry had established a comprehensive child protection policy in May 2018, and three were conducted in February 2019. All interviews with children were conducted in Arabic with many of the interviews translated into English by an interpreter.

Human Rights Watch provided an explanation of informed consent to ensure that interviewees understood the nature and purpose of the interview and could choose whether to speak with researchers. In each case, researchers explained how the information would be used and published and sought the interviewees’ permission to include their experiences and recommendations in this report. Human Rights Watch informed children and their parents that they could stop or pause the interview at any time and could decline to answer questions or discuss particular topics. Human Rights Watch did not provide any financial or other incentives to consent to interviews.

In almost all cases, parents requested that Human Rights Watch withhold identifying details and not use their real names or the names of the school staff involved, because of concerns that their children could face reprisals from school staff, or in the case of Syrian refugee families, because they feared or had experienced threats from school officials to report them to the police for lacking legal residency in Lebanon. For this reason, Human Rights Watch did not provide details about individual cases to the Ministry of Education. All names of parents and children used in this report are pseudonyms.

 

I. Background: Violence in Schools in Lebanon

Harmful Effects of Corporal Punishment and Verbal Abuse on Children

Globally, pediatric, psychiatric and other professional medical associations have called for an end to the use of corporal punishment because of the short- and long-term harms it causes children.

  • The US Society for Adolescent Medicine found that victims of corporal punishment experience “deteriorating peer relationships, difficulty with concentration, lowered school achievement, antisocial behavior, intense dislike of authority, somatic complaints, a tendency for school avoidance and school drop-out, and other evidence of negative high-risk adolescent behavior.”[1] 
  • Children who have been subjected to harsh disciplinary practices have reported subsequent problems with depression, fear and anger.[2]
  • Corporal punishment is linked to increased violence by children. A 2018 study, based on data of about 400,000 children, ages 13 to 17, in 88 countries, found that rates of frequent physical fights were 31 percent lower for boys and 58 percent lower for girls in countries that ban corporal punishment than in those without a ban.[3]
  • Medical associations in countries such as the UK, US, and Australia have called for the abolition of corporal punishment on the basis that it harms students’ self-image and school achievement and contributes to violent behavior.[4]
  • The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that corporal punishment signals to children “that a way to settle interpersonal conflicts is to use physical force and inflict pain,” and can prevent children from developing “trusting, secure relationships with adults.”[5] 

In 2018, the responses of 153 Lebanese pediatricians to a questionnaire showed that 40 percent were not aware of the psychological impact of corporal punishment on children, and 50 percent were not aware of the physical harms caused.[6] To the extent that the harmful impact of corporal punishment has been documented in Lebanon, non-governmental organizations and the Lebanese government have identified corporal punishment and other forms of violence in schools as a cause of students dropping out of school and ending their formal education. The reports do not always distinguish whether the cause of drop-outs was violence by school staff, or bullying, harassment, and assault by other students, but they do indicate that violence by school staff is common:

  • A 2012 nationwide needs assessment for Syrian refugee children concluded that under-qualified teachers and the prevalent use of corporal punishment were among the main causes of high dropout rates and “decreasing enrolment rates in public education.”[7]
  • A survey conducted by a group of Lebanese NGOs in July 2017, found that nearly two-thirds of the 87 Syrian children who contacted them because they had been verbally or physically abused at school, had dropped out.[8]
  • An international NGO that provides non-formal education to children found that 7 percent of the 1,500 children whom it referred to public schools, and who dropped out during the 2017-2018 school year, cited violence in school by teachers or bullying on the way to school by other students as the primary reason.[9]

Among children who do not drop out of school, the World Bank also found a strong correlation between the frequency of abuse in Lebanese schools, and declining scores in math tests.[10] Studies in the US have similarly found that students at schools where corporal punishment is frequently used perform worse academically than children in schools where it is prohibited. [11] 

Among countries in the Middle East and North Africa, only Tunisia’s penal code clearly prohibits all corporal punishment of children in the home, school, and all other settings. Laws, regulations, or policies reportedly prohibit corporal punishment in schools in Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, but with varying degrees of enforcement.[12]

Schools and Violence in Lebanon

Around 210,000 Lebanese children, 210,000 Syrian refugee children, and 6,000 Iraqi refugee children enrolled in Lebanon’s public schools in the 2018-2019 school year.[13] About 700,000 Lebanese primary and secondary school students, as well as around 65,000 Syrian children, attended private schools in 2018-2019. The majority of private schools have a religious affiliation – mostly Shia or Sunni Muslim, and about 20 percent are Catholic.[14] Of all the children in Lebanon, including those not yet of school age, almost 1.4 million children were living below the poverty line in November 2018.[15]

There is a history of violence by primary and secondary school staff against students in Lebanon.[16] In 1998, the Higher Council for Children in Lebanon – formed in 1994 as a framework for NGOs and international organizations to formulate policy on children’s issues that would implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child, with the Minister of Social Affairs as president[17] -- found that 40 percent of Lebanese schoolchildren “suffer from acts of physical violence on the part of their teachers,” despite “ministerial decrees prohibiting the practice since 1974.”[18]

In 2011, St. Joseph University in Beirut conducted a country-wide survey of 1,177 schoolchildren ages 10-18 in private and public schools, selected proportionately to the overall population in each of the country’s governorates. It found that 76 percent of the children interviewed had been subjected to physical violence by teachers or administrators in schools, with the highest rates among younger, socially-vulnerable children in public schools.[19] Punishments reported by children included being slapped in the face or head, having their ears twisted, pulled by the hair, hit with a ruler, kicked, forced to kneel in a painful position, or “tied up with a rope or belt.”

Also in 2011, some 94 Lebanese, Iraqi refugee and Palestinian refugee children who participated in focus group discussions with Save the Children in seven different areas in Lebanon -- whether in private or public schools, or in schools run by the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) – said they had seen corporal punishment or “humiliating treatment” by teachers and administrators at school, which were major factors in low enrollment and high dropout rates.[20]

A survey by UNICEF and Save the Children of 22 public and 5 private schools during the 2012-2013 school year found that “corporal punishment is widespread”:

Violence was witnessed in 70.4 percent of the schools visited. Corporal punishment was recorded on the basis of directly witnessing beatings of students, testimonies given by children, and the sight of teachers walking with beating sticks in their hands.[21]

Lebanon’s Education Ministry cited these disturbing findings in the education plan it adopted in response to the influx of refugee students fleeing from the conflict in Syria, which began in 2011. The three-year-plan, “Reaching All Children with Education,” or RACE, warned that “existing corporal punishment practices are likely to make violence an increasing resort for teachers who are struggling to cope,” while “Syrian children already report suffering from verbal and physical abuse from teachers and students.”[22] In the 2012-2013 school year, when the UNICEF / Save the Children study was conducted, some 29,000 school-age Syrian children who had fled to Lebanon were enrolled in public schools, alongside 198,000 Lebanese children.[23] By the 2017-2018 school year, children fleeing to Lebanon from the conflict in Syria had doubled the number of children in the public school system, from 196,000 in 2011-2012 to more than 400,000.[24]  According to a UNICEF humanitarian update from October 2018, one in every four people in Lebanon was a Syrian refugee, and half of the estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees were children.[25] (Lebanese authorities stopped allowing UNHCR to register new refugees in 2015; as of February 2019, the number of officially-registered refugees was around 950,000.[26])

Recent surveys have consistently identified a significant prevalence of violence in schools:

  • A 2015-2016 survey led by Lebanese human rights and development groups, conducted by Lebanese and refugee boys and girls ages 14-17 among 1,040 of their peers, found that 21.78 percent of the children surveyed felt unsafe at school due to violence.[27]
  • A UNICEF survey in 2016 found that 65 percent of Syrian children, 82 percent of Palestinian children, and 57 percent of Lebanese children below age 14 had experienced violence at home or at school.[28]
  • A 2017 UNICEF and UN Habitat household survey of 353 Lebanese and 340 non-Lebanese households in the Tabbaneh neighborhood in Tripoli found that 33.6 percent of children between 1 and 17 experienced some type of violent discipline in schools including “severe physical punishment” (9.9 percent), other forms of physical punishment (21.1 percent), and “psychological aggression” (28.4 percent).[29]
  • A 2017 UNICEF and UN Habitat household survey of 555 Lebanese and 392 non-Lebanese households in the el-Qobbeh neighborhood in Tripoli found that 27.8 percent of children between 1 and 17 experienced a violent discipline in school, including severe physical punishment (3.9 percent), other forms of physical punishment (19.7 percent) and “psychological aggression” (23.9 percent). Rates of violent discipline in school are as high as 39 percent for children ages 10-14. Lebanese students (35.5 percent) experience a higher rate of violence than non-Lebanese students (13.8 percent).[30]
  • In 2018, a World Bank survey of 341 Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian households with children in public schools found that 18 percent of children ages 5 to 11, and 21 percent of 12- to 15-year-olds, reported teacher-to-student violence.[31]

Research for this report focused on corporal punishment of students by school staff, but bullying by other students has also led Lebanese, Palestinian, and Syrian children to skip school or even drop out.[32] Syrian children face additional risks at and on the way to school. In order to accommodate Syrian refugee students, the Education Ministry opened afternoon shift classes at more than 300 public schools since the 2016-2017 school year.[33] Syrian children face verbal or physical abuse on the way to school, and have reported that fights outside school premises were common, particularly during the change between first-shift classes with a large majority of Lebanese students, and Syrian-only, second-shift classes.[34]  

 

II. Case Studies

This chapter presents information about abuses in schools selected from interviews Human Rights Watch conducted with teachers, NGO education and child protection workers, and with Lebanese and Syrian families whose children suffered from violence by teachers, supervisors, school directors, and bus drivers. The interviewees described serious abuses at both public and private schools across Lebanon, including cases from the South, Mount Lebanon, Beirut, Bekaa, Baalbek-Hermel, North, and Akkar governorates.

Four children described assaults by teachers, school supervisors, and school bus drivers that resulted in injuries including a broken nose, broken teeth, swollen and bleeding hands, and lost fingernails. In two cases, children with medical conditions were singled out for punishment even though particularly vulnerable to pain and suffering because of their illnesses.

At three schools, violence by school staff against Syrian refugee students was so common that it caused mass drop-outs when parents stopped sending their children to school. Syrian children described especially humiliating treatment, including verbal abuse and denial of access to bathroom facilities that forced some to soil themselves in the classroom. Staff at some schools appeared to regularly beat students with impunity, based on interviews with numerous parents and children over the course of several months. Some students and parents who did complain faced reprisals, particularly Syrian families whom teachers or principals threatened to report to the police due to a lack of legal residency.

Injuries from Physical Assault

“She hit me with a book and broke my teeth”

One morning in early February 2019, a third-grade teacher at a public school in the Mount Lebanon governorate responded to requests from Nur, 9, to go to the bathroom by beating him on the head with a textbook, breaking his two front teeth, his mother Manal said.[35] She only learned about the incident when Nur returned from school. She said Nur told her, “I asked the English miss [teacher] to go to the toilet [twice], and the second time she hit me with a book and broke my teeth. I started crying and she said, ‘Sorry I didn’t mean to’.” Nur had fallen and chipped his two front teeth during the summer vacation, and a dentist gave him fillings, which broke along with pieces of his teeth when he was hit – “they’re now broken even more,” Manal said. She called the principal, who promised to find out what happened, but then called her back saying that Nur “fell during recess.” Manal, a nurse, said:

[The principal] suggested I take [Nur] to the doctor. I told him you don’t need to tell me this, of course I will, but this happened because of the teacher and you need to cover the expenses. He told me not to worry, we’re not going to get into a dispute because of this. [Nur] spent the first three days in tears. He couldn’t even drink.

A dentist gave Nur new fillings, but said it was not clear if his nerves were damaged or if his pain would subside, Manal said. When Nur returned to school the next day, the teacher told him, “I didn’t hit you. I waved the book and you bent your head down,” Manal said. “[Nur] also told me she told the classroom that everything that happens in class stays in class, they can’t tell anyone what’s happening.”

After the incident, Manal asked Nur about the teacher and learned that she was verbally abusive and that he saw her hit other children with a ruler.

He told me, “Mom, today she called me a ‘retard.’” And she yanked the hair on the side of his head. For the kids it has become normal. It’s like the teachers have this idea in their head: if you bother us, we’ll hit you.

Manal said she had not contacted the Education Ministry or the police for fear that the teacher could be fired and “lose her livelihood,” but was concerned about the prevalence of corporal punishment in schools: “in Lebanon it’s becoming normal.” Her youngest son, who attends the same school, also regarded his first-grade teacher with fear, she said. “He’s always scared. He keeps saying these words: ‘Miss will hit us’.”

“He arrived home with blood all over his face”

In an incident during the 2017-2018 school year, a teacher at a private school in the Mount Lebanon governorate broke the nose of a boy – Charbel, age 10 – after he told her to stop hitting another student.[36] According to the boy’s mother, Rana,

No one from the school called me. No one said a thing. He arrived home with blood all over his face. Then I started getting calls from other parents telling me what happened. I requested an urgent meeting with the principal the next day, along with several other parents. He said he was shocked, but given all the complaints, surely he knew she was violent. I told him, ‘You suspend her now or we won’t send our kids back to school.’ He asked us to submit a written complaint, and they suspended [the teacher] for 10 days, but then she came back. I wrote more than 15 emails, complaining, but the school didn’t take any meaningful action. I had to do something. I decided to file a lawsuit against the teacher. I went to the police station in [town redacted] to submit the complaint. They questioned her, then they called us. They brought a forensic doctor. My son testified. The investigative judge declared that she will go on trial.[37]

 Lebanon’s Education Ministry bans violent discipline at school, but it is not adequately enforced. In some children are suffering physical injuries. When a teacher broke “Charbel’s” nose, no one from the school called his family to let them know.

© 2019 Dadu Shin for Human Rights Watch

Rana changed her son’s school because “he started hating school and hating teachers. He thought all teachers were like her. It took him a month after starting at a new school to understand. And he asked me to send a gift to his old principal—a human rights book, so he will learn how to protect the rights of [my son’s] friends.”

In separate interviews, two other Lebanese parents whose children attend the same school said school administrators failed to discipline or remove a teacher who had repeatedly hit, shoved, screamed at and otherwise abused children, despite parents’ complaints.[38] The teacher shoved one girl so hard she fell to the floor, her mother said.[39] The girl’s mother said that on different occasions, while she was dropping off her daughter at the school in the morning, she also overheard the teacher shouting insults at another student, and banging loudly and in a frightening way on a student’s desk.

“It was an intense beating”

In November 2018, a teacher and a school director at a public school in the North Governorate beat a Lebanese girl whom the teacher accused of using a calculator to solve a math problem. The girl’s father, Ahmad, said she is talented at mathematics, and that her grades and school reports “were all good with positive comments about her behavior.”[40] However, when she solved an equation quickly the teacher accused her of cheating. “Her classmates defended her and told the teacher it’s not true, but the teacher pinched her and pulled her hair,” and reported her to the school director. Later the same morning, the director entered her class, “asked ‘Where is Noor?’, and grabbed her and started hitting her face.” When Noor came home two hours later, Ahmad said, “her face was swollen and all red, like tomatoes. It wasn’t just a slap. It was an intense beating. When I saw her face, I lost my mind.” Ahmed went immediately to a nearby police station. 

If the police hadn’t seen her immediately they wouldn’t have believed me. I submitted a complaint against both the teacher and the principal. They summoned both. The teacher went, the principal didn’t. The general prosecutor instructed the police to try to reconcile us. I told them I’m ready to drop the case if they pledge not to hurt my daughter anymore, and the teacher signed a pledge.

In May 2018, the Education Ministry launched a policy for protecting children in school. Now the Education Ministry should prioritize enforcement. Noor’s teacher pulled her hair and the principal beat her in the face. Her father went to the police.

© 2019 Dadu Shin for Human Rights Watch

However, when Noor returned to school, “the principal threatened to put her and her father and her mother in prison,” Ahmad said. “Noor came back home and told me.” Ahmad then filed a complaint with the regional department of the Education Ministry. Within a few days, he said, inspectors from the ministry went to the school and interviewed students. However, three weeks after the beating, no action had been taken against either the teacher or the principal, and Ahmad transferred Noor to another public school. Since then, “her attitude changed. She’s gotten better. Now she’s studying well. Back then, she was afraid to go to school.” Ahmad said he had previously transferred his son, Brahim, who is now 6, from the public school to a private school, after his kindergarten teacher “kept yelling at him. I met with the principal, and she told me, ‘that’s what we have, take it or leave it, go to a private school’.”

“I was bleeding for a few days”

Teachers at a public school in the Baalbek-Hermel governorate, regularly hit a 12-year-old boy and his 11-year-old sister, the children said.[41] The boy, Ghaith, identified a teacher who hit him on the back of the neck and back, and on the hands with a metal ruler and an electrical cable; on one occasion “the electric cable cut open my hand and I was bleeding from it for a few days,” he said. His sister, Rawan, said that on several occasions teachers at the school hit her, including her gym teacher, “who slapped me on the face when I asked to go to the bathroom.” The siblings are from a family of seven who fled to Lebanon from Syria, and attend the afternoon shift for Syrian students at the public school. They said that school staff prohibited Syrian students from using the bathrooms. Their mother said she complained twice to the school director, “but he’d just say, ‘You Syrians get your education and healthcare for free and are ruining our country’.”

The abuse, combined with poor-quality education, and the family’s poverty had led Ghaith and his older sister Anan, 16, to drop out of school, they said. Anan was in her eighth year of school when the family fled Syria, but dropped out of school after coming to Lebanon to work in agriculture, she said. “The English teacher just taught us the letters, and a few verbs, and spent the rest of his time on the phone,” she said. Ghaith recalled, “One teacher didn’t teach anything at school but wrote his mobile number on the board and said to call him” for private lessons. Their mother and father both have injuries and could not work. “Instead of wasting my time not learning anything in school, I’d prefer to help my family” by earning an income, he said. Ghaith works as a cowherd from 8 or 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 or 5 p.m. daily.

No scientific study has demonstrated a benefit from corporal punishment. Research shows instead that making children suffer fear and pain causes short-term and long-term harms, from school drop-outs to aggression and violence later in life.

© 2019 Dadu Shin for Human Rights Watch

“He tried to suffocate him”

A teacher at a school in the Mount Lebanon governorate twice witnessed serious violence by a bus driver against a Syrian boy in his third year of elementary school as he was waiting outside the school before going home during the 2017-2018 school year. In an email to Human Rights Watch, the teacher recalled,

I saw the driver hit him and tried to suffocate him with his hands, till the other drivers stopped him because he was going to harm the kid seriously. He also shouted and insulted him in front of all the kids using very bad and hurtful expressions (you dog, I will kill you...) and many [other] insults. This boy was a high achiever and had a very strong personality. He never cried or acted like a kid, it was the first time I saw him crying and weak when that driver attacked him.[42]

When the teacher witnessed a second, serious physical attack by the bus driver, she intervened. “I said, ‘If the kids are bothering you, you can tell the school principal, but you have no right to hit any child!” She reported the assault to the school principal, who said she would speak to the driver. The teacher did not know whether this happened, but assumed that there were other incidents of violence by other drivers that she did not directly witness. “This happened twice in front of my eyes, but I am sure that it happened a lot with many other students, as another driver holds a cane all the time to threaten the kids.”

Impact of Violence on Especially Vulnerable Children

“We can’t treat him any better than the other students”

Fadi, now 12 years old, was diagnosed with leukemia at age 5, when he was attending a private pre-school in the Baalbek-Hermel governorate. He continued for the start of his primary education at the private school, “where the principal helped him, by moving his seat to the front of the class,” his mother, Rasha, said.[43] At age 9, the boy’s family moved to a town in the Bekaa governorate, where he enrolled in a public school.

That’s where the problems started, in 2016. His Arabic teacher was good to him. But because of the medication, it was hard for him to focus, and he was targeted for harassment [by his teachers] because he was not doing well in school. The French teacher was especially hard on him. The teacher called him a donkey and pulled his hair in front of the other students. She even did it in front of me when I came to the school. The teacher regularly made him stand outside in the cold, next to the outside wall, not inside in the hallway.

 Parents in Lebanon who complained about violence in school said it did not help. “Fadi’s” mother said a teacher insulted and made him stand outside when the side-effects of his medication made it hard to study, but the school director defended the abuse.

© 2019 Dadu Shin for Human Rights Watch

Rasha said she complained to the school director “four or five times,” and also argued with the director as to whether Fadi would advance to the next grade, but without result.  “The director said, ‘We can’t treat him any better than the other students,’ and also pulled his hair at least twice.”

He gets severe headaches, and when he got them the director would call me and say, ‘don’t bring him here anymore.’ There was no one else I could complain to. I was trying so hard to keep him emotionally strong, and not upset, because that’s the most important thing when you have cancer. And he’d come home upset every single day. He hated going to school.

Rasha said she eventually helped Fadi to write a public appeal to the minister of education on Facebook after the school director refused to enroll Fadi in the 2017-2018 school year, saying that “he should go to a place [an institution] for children with intellectual disabilities.”[44] The letter ended, “we children have the right to love school, the right to learn.” The minister discussed Fadi’s case on a television show, but did not require the school director to re-enroll him. No one from the ministry ever spoke with Fadi or called her, Rasha said. She had been unable to afford a private school in the area, but learned later that one school offered a scholarship, and was able to pull Fadi out of the public school and enroll him in the private school. Staff at the new school are providing accommodation for Fadi, and his attitude toward school has significantly improved, Rasha said. “Now, they even carry his backpack for him.”

“My son might have been permanently harmed”

Mohammad, 13, said a teacher at a public school in the Bekaa valley beat him on the hands with a ruler “because I couldn’t write well.” His mother, Riham, explained that Mohammed has difficulty using his hands, which she believed was due to an undiagnosed congenital illness, and that his hands were susceptible to injury. “They beat him on his hand and it got very bad swelling, until [school staff] saw [the swelling] and stopped,” his mother said, but the beating galvanized her to pull her children out of the school. “I couldn’t imagine that my son might have been permanently harmed because of what they did to him there.” Mohammad also recalled seeing other children being beaten, and “one time the teacher slammed a girls’ head down on her desk, she was sitting right next to me.”[45]

Children in Lebanon described being slapped, hit and beaten at school with electrical cables, rubber hoses, belts, sticks and rulers. In surveys, 20 to 70 percent of schoolchildren said they suffered corporal punishment.

© 2019 Dadu Shin for Human Rights Watch

Mohammad’s sister Amna, 11, said her teachers, principal and other staff hit children for failing to bring notebooks to class, not memorizing assigned texts, or running in the playground.

Teachers wanted us to have four notebooks, and they would hit me and send me to the principal and he’d hit me too, with a stick, on the back of my hands. The French teacher hit me the worst, because I couldn’t memorize French. She used a wooden ruler. Most of the [students in] French class got hit. The principal hit me more than the French teacher. He would first tell me, ‘Why didn’t you memorize the lesson,’ and then hit me, everywhere he could. Also, the supervisor who watches the kids, he would hit you in the thigh if you ran on the stairs or on the playground.[46]

The two siblings had enrolled in late October or early November 2017, but dropped out of school in February because of the violence, they and their mother said.[47] “From the first week they started going to school they hated it,” Riham said. “They would come back crying.” She complained to three different NGOs, which told her they had referred the complaints to the Education Ministry, but without any noticeable result, she said. “I want them to have a formal, certified education, so I enrolled them in a public school, but if I had known this would happen I never would have tried.”

Humiliating and Discriminatory Treatment

In interviews with Human Rights Watch, Syrian refugee children and their parents described humiliating treatment and abuse by some teachers apparently at times motivated by the child’s national origin. Rauf, 9, said that a teacher at the public school in Lebanon’s South governorate, where he is enrolled in second grade repeatedly beat him – “she hits me on the hands with a ruler. She hits someone every day.”[48] He said the teacher mocked his dark skin color by “call[ing] me ‘dirty’” in front of other students, and did not intervene to protect him from older children in his class who “stomp on my feet and hurt me.” She also told him to leave class and sit in the hallway because his shirt was dirty.

Rauf’s sister, Abeer, 10, was in the same class, and said she protested when the teacher beat her brother, but the teacher “said to mind my own business.” The teacher prohibits children “she doesn’t like from being allowed to go to the bathroom,” Abeer said.[49]

Staff at an NGO said they learned Rauf was being beaten regularly because a third sibling in the same class, Leila, 12, told them another one of their teachers was also regularly beating her.[50] Their mother, Ghada, said she had complained to the school about verbal and physical abuse of her children by teachers, “but no one replied” until she went to the school to speak to the director. “The director was respectful [to me], but he told me my kids are always outside the classroom. The teacher told him [the director] that Rauf is dirty and smells bad and that’s why she doesn’t want him in the class.”[51]

Ghada said that the abuse was harming her children’s education, and that quality of instruction was low: “Abeer and Leila are repeating grades, because they don’t teach them anything.” She enrolled her children in non-formal classes with another NGO on weekends. She expressed anger and frustration that her children had no other formal education options but for a school where they felt humiliated by their teacher:

The teacher threw [Abeer] out of the class like she was garbage. She picks Rauf up by the shoulder of his shirt like he’s filthy. I wish they could go to another school, but this school is close by. Now I pay twenty thousand per child for transportation [20,000 Lebanese pounds, or US $13 per month], if they changed schools it would cost sixty [US $40].

Staff at the NGO said they had notified the Ministry of Education, then followed up, but that as of April 2019 they had not received information that the ministry had taken any action.[52] The children were unable to transfer to a different school and were still enrolled in the same school in the 2018-2019 school year.

Impunity for Abuses

Education professionals described a number of schools where teachers and administrators hit and routinely verbally abused children without consequences, in some cases because of a reluctance to report the violence to the Education Ministry, or because of a lack of response by the ministry.

Some teachers enjoyed virtual impunity despite allegedly abusing students because of their connections with Lebanese political parties, a child protection officer at an international agency said, recalling “a teacher who was fired for physical abuse but reassigned the following day because of party connections” in early 2018.[53] In other cases, school administrators may prevent the reporting of incidents of violence perpetrated by teachers against students. According to a Syrian teacher volunteering as an education liaison with the refugee community at a public school in the Arsal region of the Baalbek-Hermel governorate, the school director interfered with the system for reporting complaints. Normally complaints should “go straight to UNICEF,” but in this case they did not, because “the director says he has to ‘validate’ them first.”[54]

Even in cases where complaints do reach the ministry, they are often not acted on. A child protection specialist at a Lebanese NGO said that during the 2017-2018 school year, “we referred an entire public school” in southern Beirut to the Education Ministry because “we found that 11 children were being beaten,” but the specialist said that no steps had been taken as of September 2018.[55]

A former teacher at an elementary public school in the North governorate, whose classes included both Lebanese and Syrian children, described impunity for routine, and sometimes severe, abuses.

[A teacher made] students hold their fingers up in the air and hit them with the ruler on tips of their fingers. Sometimes I’d have students whose fingernails had popped off. It’s a technique that makes them not forget the pain, even at home. When the Arabic teacher would come in, I had one student who would literally pee himself from fear. The supervisor would twist earlobes, to the point that one student actually had a dislocated earlobe. And she would randomly pull kids’ hair. The other teachers were scared, ‘Don’t write a petition against her, you’ll get us all in trouble,’ because the principal herself was personally very aggressive, she slapped students really hard.[56]

The teacher informed the school-district body in the North governorate, with no result she was aware of. “Not once did anyone from the school district visit, at least during the year I was there. They visit schools in cities every other month, but this was a school in a rural, remote area.”

In the 2016-2017 school year, one NGO identified 15 children who were being hit by a public school teacher, but said the Education Ministry did not take any known action against the abuser.[57] Staff at another NGO told Human Rights Watch that dozens of Syrian children had dropped out of a public school in the North governorate during the 2017-2018 school year after a minibus driver beat some of them with his belt.[58] “We had helped them enroll, and we wanted to intervene,” but were unable to “get the ministry to do anything” to end the abuse or sanction the driver, an NGO staff member said. During that year, a child protection specialist with another NGO said that she had reported a case of bus drivers verbally and physically abusing children in the Baalbek-Hermel governorate, but did not know if there was any result, and that children had dropped out as a result of the abuses on the way to school.[59]

Threats and Reprisals against Children and Parents who Complain of Abuse

“If you tell anyone what happened you’ll be beaten a thousand times”

Yousef, 12, a fifth-grader, told Human Rights Watch that in early February 2019 he was assaulted by a teacher at his public elementary school in the North governorate.[60] Yousef told Human Rights Watch that a classmate had taken one of his shoes, to bother him, and when class was almost over, he told his teacher:

I told her that he took off my shoe. She hit me. She grabbed me and shoved my head on the desk. My mouth hit the edge and blood started going out. Everyone left. And I went out. The supervisor told me, ‘If you tell [anyone] what happened you’ll be beaten a thousand times.’ 

Yousef’s father, Fouad, said that the beating happened at around 1 p.m., and that his wife immediately called him when Yousef arrived home at 2:15 p.m. “She said, ‘Come see your son, his teacher hit him and he’s bloody.’ When I saw him, he was so afraid that at first he wouldn’t tell me what happened.” Furious, Fouad took Yousef to a nearby police station to complain, “but they told me, ‘There’s not a lot of harm, his face isn’t swollen, there’s nothing we can do.’ My son’s face was all red, it was obvious he was beaten.” Fouad took a photograph and posted the image, which shows a laceration in Yousef’s front upper gums, on Facebook.[61] Yousef’s mother eventually persuaded him to go back to the school with her, where she spoke with the administration. “They’re denying everything,” Fouad said when he spoke to Human Rights Watch several days later. “They didn’t care, they don’t care. They’re not cooperating.”  Fouad said that he believes his Facebook post prompted a phone call he received from someone who said they were calling from the Ministry of Education; the caller did not identify himself, but from the phone number, Fouad saw that the call originated in Beirut. “They asked about what happened, and that was it. They didn't say they will open an investigation or ask to interview [Yousef] or give any instructions on how to submit a complaint.”[62]

Vulnerability of Syrians to Reprisals

Several Syrian refugee families who lacked legal status in Lebanon – as more than 75 percent of Syrian refugees do, because of harsh residency requirements – told Human Rights Watch that if they complained about school staff, the staff could inform other Lebanese authorities that the family lacked legal status, subjecting them to arrest, fines, and harassment.[63] NGO staff said that in general, Syrian refugees who lacked legal residency in Lebanon sought to avoid contact with Lebanese authorities.[64] In one case, NGO staff reported that a Syrian family had been forced to leave their informal tented settlement after complaining about violence by public school staff toward a child. “The teacher was politically connected in the area, and the family was pressured to leave,” a protection officer said about a case in the Bekaa valley from December 2017.[65]

Syrian parents and NGO staff had similar concerns. “There needs to be reform so it is safe for families to report violence,” an education expert in Lebanon said.[66] Staff at one NGO noted that before it referred cases of abuse at schools directly to the Education Ministry, it assessed whether “our own staff who do the reporting could [face] retaliation, and whether our referrals will do more good than harm” for the child, who could also face reprisals.[67]

It is likely that abuses are under-reported because of the fear of reprisals for reporting them. A report from November 2016 found that those Syrian parents and children who were aware of a complaints mechanism were afraid to report corporal punishment due to the potential of reprisals and the fear that children who complained would “face more punishment shortly afterwards by the same teachers.”[68]

“I just try to hide away when I’m being hit”

Mousa, 8, fled with his family from Syria to Lebanon’s South governorate in 2013. He is enrolled in second grade, in the afternoon shift at a public school. One of his teachers repeatedly beat him. “He hits me a lot, with a metal ruler. He hits me on the body. And once he pushed me so hard that I fell on my face and scratched my eye.”[69] There are around 30 children in his class, Mousa said. The teacher “beats all of us -- all of us. I hide my head when he is hitting me. I just try to hide away when I’m being hit.”

Mousa’s father, Samih, said he knew his son was being hit but was reluctant to complain because of his vulnerable status as a Syrian refugee in Lebanon, but when the teacher injured his son’s eye in early 2018, he went to the school.[70] “When I went to see the teacher who had hit Mousa, I found that the director of the school had also hit Othman [his older son] because he said he was acting like a devil.” The director then told Samih to sign a paper stating that school staff had punished Othman due to the boy’s misbehavior.

They wanted me to sign another paper about Mousa. But one of Mousa’s other teachers told me that no, Mousa was a very good kid, so I wouldn’t sign that paper. Then the director said they’d kick both kids out of school if I couldn’t bring their vaccination certificates from Syria.

The demand for Syrian medical certificates violates public school admission policies, which are set by the Ministry of Education, and which do not require Syrian documents as a condition for enrollment.

As the beatings continued, Samih said his sons began “pretending that they’re sick at home to avoid going to school.” “I don’t like going to school,” Mousa acknowledged. “The teacher says he’s going to kick me out of the school – and out of Lebanon.”

Samih informed a Lebanese NGO that supports education for Syrian and vulnerable Lebanese children about the situation. The NGO notified the Ministry of Education, which sent personnel to visit the school. Staff at the NGO told Human Rights Watch that the complaint did not name Mousa, only the teacher, and confirmed Mousa’s account that “there are a lot of children being beaten at the school.”[71] Education Ministry personnel took the positive step of visiting the school to look into the complaint, but “they went to Mousa and asked who had hit him,” Samih said. “He pointed at the teacher. Then they left, and the teacher said [Mousa] shouldn’t have complained and hit him again.” Samih and NGO staff said they could not confirm how the ministry staff had identified Mousa as the complainant. Samih said the ministry did not contact him at the time of the complaint, or since. “No one has asked me anything.”

After their complaints that the boys were suffering from violence at school, Samih said, “the director told me that they had filed a case against me with the police and that they would be taking me back to Syria.” Like most Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Mousa’s parents have been unable to maintain their residency paperwork. Lebanese authorities began to impose onerous residency requirements on Syrian refugees in 2015.[72]

The boys were able to enroll in a different school in the 2018-2019 school year and were not facing further abuse. However, no disciplinary actions were taken against the teacher at their former school, according to staff at the NGO.[73]

Abuses Leading to Drop-Outs

In some cases, significant numbers of parents have pulled their children out of public schools due to corporal punishment and other abuse. During the 2017-2018 school year, a public school in the Bekaa governorate and another public school in the North governorate were left with no Syrian students in their afternoon classes because all the families as a group stopped sending their children to the schools due to abuses by school staff, an education specialist working with a humanitarian NGO said.[74]

In the Akkar governorate, Human Rights Watch documented that a Syrian refugee community stopped sending their children to a public school for one week in March 2018, due to abuse by teachers, including beatings, insults, and the refusal of teachers to let students go to the bathroom, according to Hamed, whose children were abused at the school.[75]

Hamed’s daughter Rania, 9, said that her teacher “beats me on my head and legs with a stick, and pushes my head down on the desk, hard, and beats me on my ears with the blackboard eraser.”[76] Her sister Reham, 7, said, “My teacher pulls me by the hair and calls me lazy.” Hamed said his son, Salim, 11, was also being beaten and complained that one teacher called him a donkey. Hamed said that his brother pulled his son out of the same school in late 2017, after a teacher beat the boy “on the hand, badly, so that he couldn’t move his thumb for a week.”

The parents’ boycott prompted the director of the school to come to the community, “and he promised that he’d stop the beatings and that the kids would be allowed to go to the bathroom, but he didn’t keep his word,” Hamed said.

Previously the children had been enrolled in a school run by an NGO, which was not accredited by the Lebanese Education Ministry, and were encouraged to enroll in public school so that their education would be officially certified, he said.

But last year the quality of education was better. Now they’re in the public school but every student is being beaten. There are some good teachers, too, but it’s better to go without school than this. We promised the kids not to enroll them next year. We just kept them in for now because we are trying to get them to take their exams.

An NGO that followed Hamed’s children’s case sent two complaints in April and May 2018 to the education ministry, which resulted in the school director issuing a written warning to a teacher who children said had beaten them. [77]

An educator at a Lebanese NGO that provides non-formal education in the Bekaa valley said some parents had pulled their children out of one nearby public school due to fears of corporal punishment: “We are always trying to tell them that formal education is best, but parents are afraid their kids will be beaten.”[78] Another education expert at the same NGO, speaking to Human Rights Watch during the following school year, noted the same fear:

 “We work with parents who live right next to the public school, but they say, ‘even if there were spaces available, we wouldn’t send our children to be beaten there. ’”[79]

Staff at two NGOs and parents of students identified another public elementary school in the Bekaa valley as an abusive environment and said that it led to the kids leaving the school. “The school is always a problem,” said an educator at an NGO located nearby. In an incident in early May 2018, “a child had his tooth broken by a teacher [who hit him] with a stick,” and in another case, “a teacher pulled a girl by her ears.”[80] 

Since Lebanon opened classes for Syrian refugee students, the number of children in public schools has more than doubled. But teachers need training in positive discipline. Syrian children said they were insulted and often banned from going to the bathroom at school.

© 2019 Dadu Shin for Human Rights Watch

In December 2017, a teacher and an administrator hit an 8-year-old boy and expelled him from the same public school. “The teacher would hit me on the back or on the hands with a rubber hose” – a type of hose commonly used to connect propane containers -- Mahmoud said.[81] The fifth or sixth time the teacher was about to beat him on the hands, this time with a stick, Mahmoud hid under his desk. The principal came into the class and slapped him, and then “he was kicked out of school, because they said he was undisciplined and had been raised badly,” his mother Heba recalled. Mahmoud had attended the school for two months, in the afternoon shift opened for Syrian refugee students (Lebanese children and some Syrian children attended the first, morning shift). The school administration “didn’t allow the Syrian children [in the afternoon shift] to go to the bathroom, so they regularly wound up soiling themselves,” his mother, Heba, said.

Badr, 12, said he dropped out of the same public elementary school after his teacher repeatedly beat him on the back and on the palms with a stick, which he described as about half-a-meter long and square in shape, four centimeters on each side.[82] On one occasion, he was beaten for playing with his friends during a break between classes: “When it’s raining and we’re all playing outside they hit us because we’re not supposed to,” he said. His mother, Randa, said she pulled him out of school because of the violence. “Now I just hang around,” Badr said, since he had aged out of the NGO-run education program he used to attend before enrolling in public school.

The parents of Badr, said they also pulled his 9-year-old sister out of the same school because the principal refused to respond to complaints that she was verbally harassed by a group of boys who loitered in the courtyard after school. The girl’s father said he went to speak to the principal, “and he said, ‘If you don’t like it you can take your daughter out of school.’” “The shebab [the group of boys and male youths who had harassed the girl] wouldn’t even let him walk through when he went to see the principal,” Randa said of her husband.[83]

Under-Reporting of Abuses

The majority of abuses that Human Rights Watch documented in interviews were the subject of complaints to NGOs, but NGO staff working in education or child protection said that most cases of routine abuse are not reported. A child protection officer at a Lebanese NGO said that in her experience, “The worst thing is that hitting has become the norm. It’s only when it’s is really bad that the parents report it.”[84]

Children also appeared to accept violence by teachers against students as normal. In a group discussion with four students – two boys and two girls, ages 10 to 13 – who attended four different public schools in Beirut during the 2017-2018 school year, three children said that teachers regularly hit them or their classmates, and that they had not complained to school staff or asked NGOs to refer their complaints. The beatings were punishment for various infractions, the children said.[85] “If we go to school without wearing a uniform, or if we don’t have our blue pants or coat, or if we get into a fight, they beat us with a stick – all the teachers do, except for the Arabic and Science teachers,” said an 11-year-old who attended one school. “If we run during the break, there’s a teacher who hits us and shouts and pulls our ears,” a 13-year-old student at another school said. A 10-year-old boy who attended a third school said that one teacher meted out an especially severe punishment: “They give us 30 hits with a stick,” on the hands, the boy said.

Several NGO staff emphasized that the lack of reporting of abuse was the result of the lack of response by the Education Ministry to complaints. A child protection officer at a Lebanese NGO said that in 2017-2018 the NGO referred three cases of violence at public schools in the Bekaa valley to the Education Ministry, “but we never heard back, beyond ‘Thank you for your email’.”[86]

The cases included two children in one school who were beaten with a ruler, and a third child who dropped out of another school after a teacher hit and insulted him. In the third case other students “imitated the teacher” and also began to physically bully and insult the child.

Some teachers said they did not report violence because senior staff at their school approved of or personally used violence against students. A teacher at a public elementary school in the Mount Lebanon governorate said that during the 2017-2018 school year, she saw routine verbal and physical abuse against children by teachers, but had not made formal complaints because a supervisor as well as the school director also hit children.[87]

It happened with many kids, and frequently, including when the elementary supervisor or principal enters the classroom when they hear or see a kid misbehaving. They would hit him with their hand or punish him, or sometimes push him out of the class, and there are verbal insults like “you’re dirty,” “you donkey,” “you don’t deserve to be at school.” Every day.

In a positive step, the Education Ministry, with UNICEF support, placed 400 Syrian refugees (many of whom were qualified teachers in Syria) as volunteer “community education liaisons” in public schools during the 2017-2018 school year. The volunteers helped Syrian students navigate the unfamiliar school system and acted as a point of contact for parents in the schools. NGOs supported the program by helping to find and work with volunteers from Syrian communities. The program “helped develop much better relationships with parents, who knew more about what was happening to their kids at school, because they could talk comfortably to the volunteer,” an IRC staff member said.[88] Three Syrian refugees, all former teachers who volunteered as education liaisons, told Human Rights Watch they believed their presence helped decrease violence. Complaints of violence by Lebanese teachers increased in some schools after the volunteers were introduced, indicating that the problem may have been previously underreported.[89]

However, the volunteers also indicated that principals could play an intimidating role in the reporting and referral system. “Of course, there’s violence by teachers,” one said.[90] “The kids leave the classrooms crying. But we try not to get involved directly. If the teacher hits the child we might bring it to the principal, but not beyond that. If the principal does nothing we might notify UNICEF.” Another former teacher in Syria who volunteers as an education liaison for the Syrian refugee community at a public school remarked,

There’s always a ruler in the classroom to hit students with. It’s been decreasing since I got there, but the principal is herself verbally abusive and hits the children. […]  We can notify UNICEF [of cases of assault], but some of my colleagues say there’s no point, because after three years there have been no improvements.”[91]

 

III. Mechanisms for Preventing and Reporting School Violence

Different Lebanese government agencies are mandated to respond to abuses against children depending on the type or degree of harm and the location where the abuse occurred.[92] Sexual abuse or life-threatening abuse of a child may be reported to the police, who are obliged to send an officer or a social worker to investigate and to inform a “juvenile court” before taking further action.[93] Until 2014, article 186 of the Lebanese Penal Code of 1943 explicitly permitted the use of physical punishment by parents and teachers to discipline children “in accordance with public custom.”[94] The article was amended to remove this defense to the crime of assault for teachers in April 2014, after a video was widely disseminated on social media and television in March of a school director beating three boys with a stick on the soles of their feet for having failed an exam and stating, “Every time you put your feet down, I will beat you more.”[95] Article 186 no longer explicitly exempts teachers from criminal penalty for assaulting children, but as revised, the penal code does not explicitly prohibit corporal punishment in schools.[96] The law continues to permit parents to use physical discipline against their children.

The Ministry of Justice’s online information portal does not disaggregate information as to the number of children abused at schools or by school staff. In total, the ministry reported, 462 initial investigations were opened at juvenile courts in 2017 into cases of assault or other abuse against children.[97] In response to written questions from Human Rights Watch, the Ministry of Justice stated that it did not collect disaggregated data on the number of cases of alleged violence against students that led to prosecution or conviction of school staff since the Lebanese penal code was amended to remove an exemption from liability for teachers who use corporal punishment, in 2014. [98]

When a child is subjected to violence at school, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) is responsible for ensuring the child is protected.[99] The ministry has prohibited corporal punishment since 1974 in public schools,[100] and has periodically issued circulars prohibiting verbal abuse and corporal punishment since a 2001 ministerial directive, applicable to public and private schools, which stipulates:

Employees in the education sector are prohibited to inflict any physical punishment on pupils, nor to address verbal retribution that is humiliating and is against the principle of education and personal dignity.[101]

Private schools generally “set their own policies,” but must obtain annual licenses from the education ministry, and official examinations are mandated as a requirement for graduation.[102] The legal framework applicable to all educational facilities includes a June 15, 1959 decree that specifies sanctions to be taken in case of infringements by teaching staff, but does not mention corporal punishment.[103] The education minister has occasionally barred the employment of private school staff responsible for notorious incidents of corporal punishment.[104]

According to ministry officials, penalties for public school staff found to have used violence against students include warnings, delayed pay raises and promotions, pay reductions, suspensions, and firing.[105] Human Rights Watch has requested information from the ministry about the number of teachers who had been disciplined for violence against students or referred to judicial authorities.[106] According to a child protection officer at an NGO that monitors cases in Lebanon’s North governorate, in 2018 the Education Ministry did not refer any cases of violence by teaching staff there for criminal investigation.[107]

The Education Ministry until recently had few staff who might preempt or redress abuses by teachers, according to an education specialist who is familiar with child protection.[108] The ministry has seen enrollment in public schools double since 2012 with the influx of Syrian refugee students and relies heavily on foreign donors for funding, primarily channeled through UNICEF, which said that funding shortfalls forced “drastic cuts” in NGO child protection programs in late 2017.[109] With roughly 420,000 students in public schools, the Education Ministry had only 30 trained child protection counsellors for first shift classes in 2017-2018.[110]

Policy for the Protection of Children in the School Environment of 2018

The Education Ministry has acknowledged the need for a clear, unified mechanism to address cases of violence at school or to clarify the responsibility of teachers and other Education Ministry staff to prevent and respond to violence.[111]

In August 2016, the Education Ministry published the RACE II education plan, which stated that “the development of a child protection policy for the education sector [public and private] is underway” that would include training for “all teachers, education personnel, educators, and […] counsellors on national protocols for the identification and referral of any student impacted by violence.”[112]

In May 2018, the Education Ministry and UNICEF launched the child protection policy with the goal of establishing “a violence-free school environment … based on equity and non-discrimination.”[113] The policy defines maltreatment to include “all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse,” including “beating or corporal punishment which causes corporal harm to the student, with the aim of imposing discipline, punishment or control.”[114] A child subjected to corporal punishment is defined as a “student victim of school institutionalized violence.”[115]

The policy seeks to preempt, promptly detect, and respond to a wide range of abuses, from violence in the home, to child labor, to degrading and insulting treatment and punishment by school staff.[116] The policy includes a table of “warning signs” of behavior that may indicate a student is being abused, and provides suggested activities for counselors to increase students’ awareness of and resilience to abuse.

It also sets out a “code of conduct” for ministry staff that includes guidance on interviewing students and requires maintaining the confidentiality of information, as well as a “professional commitment” form to be signed by ministry staff and by their supervisors, stating in part:

I hereby commit myself to abide fully by everything that is mentioned in these documents, otherwise I will be subject to administrative and criminal prosecution according to the laws and regulations in force, namely the following:

1-- Respect of all child's rights especially the right to education, protection and non-discrimination […]

4-- Using non-violent means for discipline and educational oriented corrective measures

5-- Full abstention from resorting to all kinds of harmful and violent positions, attitudes and practices including harassment and abuse of all forms and degrees […][117]

UNICEF reported that the first step toward implementing the policy, in July 2018, involved child protection trainings in the North and Akkar governorates and the identification of five schools in the North governorate where NGOs had reported violence, for “interventions.”[118] The policy was being rolled out to 20 first-shift public schools where students are found to be at risk in the 2018-2019 school year, and the “referral system” will encompass 300 second-shift public schools.[119] The next planned step is to create an operational framework for the policy in the first quarter of 2019.[120]

The child protection policy has been accompanied by increases in staffing: in 2018-2019 the ministry hired an additional 25 child protection counsellors, nearly doubling the number of counsellors for first-shift classes,[121] and has placed two “focal points” – teachers who have been trained in the child protection policy – in 300 schools.[122] In addition, the second-shift curriculum for Syrian students will include a weekly, 45-minute lesson intended to prevent abuse by teaching self-awareness, social awareness and diversity, self-control, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making to students.[123]

Detailed implementing procedures to set out “clear and precise roles and responsibilities for actors at each stage” are still being developed.[124] Currently, the policy tasks school directors with implementation unless the director is implicated in abuses, in which case a vague provision applies: “the stakeholders should ensure other means for a safe accomplishment of the monitoring process by persons who have the information (e.g. a hotline).”[125]

Shortcomings of Reporting Mechanisms

The Education Ministry’s 2018 child protection policy takes a step towards reflecting recommendations on ending violence in schools consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, including by promoting codes of conduct that confront all forms of violence, classroom management and disciplinary measures that are not based on fear or force, and implementing programs that address the whole school environment such as promoting respect for all children without discrimination.[126] However, interviews with Lebanese and Syrian families as well as NGO and UN staff indicate at least four serious flaws with current reporting mechanisms that the Education Ministry will need to overcome for the child protection policy to function effectively.

Lack of Accountability

An NGO education specialist described the 2018 child protection policy as “a referral system for kids who’ve experienced violence to get PSS [psycho-social support] etcetera, but we already do this. What is needed is to hold teachers accountable for what they’re doing.” [127]

The Education Ministry has disciplined school staff, especially after violent incidents that were caught on video or reported by news media. In March 2014, then-education minister Elias Bou Saab told reporters the ministry would “take the harshest punishments against anyone beating a student,” after video footage was widely circulated showing a director of a private school – one of the network of schools operated by al-Makassed, a religious charity – painfully hitting children on the feet with a stick.[128] On a television program in October 2016, which focused on the case of another boy whose family alleged that a beating by school staff had caused lacerations on his face, minister Bou Saab said that about 20 teachers had been fired for hitting students and “several principals had paid the price for this issue,” presumably in the period since he became education minister in 2014. He encouraged parents to call the ministry’s hotline to report cases of abuse.[129] The following month, Bou Saab stated on television that a teacher “would not be returning” to teach students after news reports that the teacher had harmed children.[130]

However, despite a handful of widely-publicized cases in which teachers and other staff have been sanctioned for harming children, the overwhelming impression of parents, children, teachers, and local and international NGO staff interviewed for this report, is that there is a severe accountability gap within the Education Ministry for corporal punishment and other abuse by school staff against students.[131]

The 2018 child protection policy excludes corporal punishment and verbal abuse from the type of cases that require referral to “external measures,” leaving these issues to be dealt with only through “internal measures.”[132] Cases where children have been sexually assaulted at school are subject to “immediate referral,” which according to an Education Ministry official involves referral to the Ministry of Justice.[133] By contrast, only “internal measures,” specified as “administrative sanctions,” are to be taken against “perpetrators of aggression or violence committed by members of the educational staff.”[134]

Students who are victims of violence at school shall be referred to “competent justice according to the laws and regulations in force,” but Lebanese laws and regulations do not clearly require the involvement of law-enforcement authorities in cases of corporal punishment at school.[135] 

According to ministry officials, penalties for public school staff found to have used violence against students include warnings, delayed pay raises and promotions, pay reductions, suspensions, and firing.[136]

However, the 2018 child protection policy does not clearly spell out the consequences of corporal punishment and verbal abuse in schools, including whether sanctions include firing teachers who beat children. An education expert working with Syrian and Lebanese children in the Bekaa valley noted that teachers and principals need explicit rules that are directly applicable to the “extremely challenging” classroom environments they work in:

Classes sometimes exceed 45 students, and some [students] may be refugees who have been out of school for years, and whose living conditions – day after day, year after year – are harsh. In this kind of situation, teachers need to have a set of instructions that clearly lay out “If there is X infraction, the penalty is Y.” [137]

Lack of Anonymous Complaints Procedure

The child protection policy does not permit anonymous complaints of violence at school, and requires referrals of cases of abuse by school staff to identify the child harmed, in addition to providing information about the alleged incident, the staff responsible, and the school.[138] The policy specifies that only a small number of central and regional ministry staff may have access to this information and sets out procedures to protect the confidentiality of the information.[139]

Steps to limit sharing of information about complainants are positive and necessary. An education specialist told Human Rights Watch that she was aware of cases where NGOs reported incidents of corporal punishment at schools through a standardized form to the Education Ministry, “but then the child got kicked out of the school because of information [leaking]. The form was shared as-is, not anonymized. And the reporting mechanism so far, it’s more harm than good.”[140]

The child protection policy’s lack of an anonymous complaints procedure does not account for the fact that fear of reprisals has discouraged complaints, particularly among Syrian families. A 2014 research paper by the Center for Lebanese Studies found that parents who demanded accountability for violence against students by school staff could risk having their children blocked from access to education:

The majority of Syrian students enrolled in Lebanese public schools reported regular physical and verbal abuse from the teaching staff and principals, as well as bullying from their Lebanese peers. NGOs remain powerless to intervene to prevent violence against children. Similarly, Syrian parents also felt unable to protect their children due to limited and often uncertain implications for the chosen recourse. On the one hand, Syrian students faced near certain violence at Lebanese public schools, but the alternative risked the loss of place at school if abuse was reported.[141]

Some Syrian students “preferred to drop out of Lebanese public schools” than to endure abuse and violence, the report found. In one case, a principal to whom a student complained about corporal punishment claimed the abuse was necessary and threatened the student, leading a social worker involved in the case to express a “sense of helplessness to help students” and that “these principals are untouchable.”[142] 

Opacity in Handling Complaints

Beginning in 2015, the Education Ministry established a system by which NGOs could refer cases of violence in schools.[143] In separate interviews, staff at eight international and Lebanese humanitarian NGOs that work with Lebanese children and Syrian refugee children told Human Rights Watch that, in their experience with the referral system, the ministry did not share information about any follow-up measures it had taken. One education specialist described the development of the system:

[In 2015-2016], whenever an NGO came across a case of violence, they’d report to UNICEF, and then UNICEF would anonymize the complaint and go to the regional Education Ministry [office] and say, “We have reports of several cases within X school,” then the regional director might talk to the school director. But it wasn’t structured. Then MEHE [the Education Ministry] said they’d take charge and they set up a hotline, and a form for NGOs to fill out and send to a focal point in the ministry. But we have no idea what happens to that form.

In most cases she was involved in, the education specialist said, she was not aware of any change in teacher behavior after the complaints were submitted. “Our beneficiaries – a lot say they stopped going to school because of violence by teachers.”[144]

The Education Ministry has not published information about the number of complaints received or resolved via the phone hotline. A ministry official said it would not release the information because of the risk that NGOs would misunderstand or misrepresent it, since some complaints were not genuine and others were not related to corporal punishment by school staff.[145] World Bank financing to the Education Ministry includes a component to “strengthen the existing hotline to make it a more robust grievance redress system at MEHE,” to be assessed at the end of the year by an examination of a random sample of “anonymized hotline activity logs … which demonstrate [a] secure, confidential and accessible system.”[146] Human Rights Watch did not systematically ask parents and children about the hotline, but in three interviews, two parents and an NGO staff member said they had called a complaints hotline about a child’s mistreatment at school but that no one answered their call.[147] 

A child protection specialist at another NGO described the lack of transparency in the current system:

What is supposed to happen is, the child tells our prevention worker, who tells the social worker, who fills out the referral form and gives it to the focal point in MEHE [the Ministry of Education and Higher Education] who is supposed to do something. We are obliged to refer cases to MEHE, but we have no transparency over what happens next.[148]

Education Ministry officials said that they are obliged to maintain the confidentiality of the children whose cases are referred.[149] However, NGO staff were not aware of any option for families to authorize them to follow up on complaints. “We already know who we referred, and the family might come back to us to ask what is happening, and we can’t help,” an education specialist said.[150]

“They will acknowledge receipt of the complaint but that’s it. It’s a black box,” a staff member at another NGO said.[151] A child protection specialist at a third NGO said that after facilitating a complaint, “we can’t follow it up. MEHE is very defensive. Their efforts are not transparent. But we know that in some cases the violator and the victim are still in the same classroom after the complaint is filed.”[152]

NGO staff said it could take three months to receive an acknowledgment from the ministry that a referral had been received; in one case, the acknowledgment stated that the case had already been closed, without further explanation.[153] “The problem is that child protection referrals disappear in the system and are impossible to follow up,” another NGO education expert said.[154]

NGO staff said the lack of information from the Education Ministry on its follow-up to cases of corporal punishment and verbal abuse hindered their efforts to protect children and ensure they have access to quality education. One NGO education specialist noted, for instance, that 20 percent of the 4,000 children who were enrolled in public schools and had benefited from the NGO’s school-support programs dropped out of school during the 2017-2018 school year. “I need to know why they dropped out, to see what needs to happen to get them back into school and if we can mobilize the resources,” she said.[155] An education specialist at another NGO said, “We have a legitimate interest to follow up cases where children drop out of school due to corporal punishment. But when I asked [the Education Ministry] for information about cases of kids who dropped out due to corporal punishment, they appeared not to know.”[156]

The result of an opaque system “that does not lead to results is that families will stop bothering” to notify NGOs of violence in schools or pursue complaints with the Education Ministry, an NGO education specialist said.[157] An education expert at a large international NGO that provides child protection and non-formal education said the NGO had simply stopped “reporting cases of violence at school to MEHE [the Education Ministry] because there is no follow up and some cases of reprisals.”[158] The NGO did not have an alternative route for complaints.

Need for Better Collaboration with NGOs

Several education-policy analysts have argued that because Lebanon’s public education sector lacks capacity and resources, “strong partnerships between [the Education Ministry] and civil society are essential” to expanding services including alternative learning programs, curricular support, and teacher training.[159]

The Education Ministry has collaborated with NGOs in its RACE and RACE II plans, works extensively with UNICEF, and has occasionally permitted NGOs access to teachers and classrooms to study issues like bullying and harassment.[160] Senior ministry staff have repeatedly met with Human Rights Watch. Currently, the ministry is negotiating an agreement with an NGO to conduct a study about corporal punishment in Lebanese first-shift public schools.[161] 

Nonetheless, some Education Ministry officials have expressed views that NGOs are not trustworthy and compete with the ministry for donor funding. One official told Human Rights Watch that NGOs, in order to boost their funding from donors, had submitted false complaints of violence against children in public schools.[162] The ministry has developed a protocol whereby NGOs responsible for five false complaints will receive a letter from the education minister calling on them to improve their data collection and verification processes.[163] Another Education Ministry official said that foreign government donors preferred to give funding to humanitarian NGOs headquartered in their home country, rather than to Lebanese ministries, indicating a concern that if the ministry granted a greater role to NGOs, it would find itself starved of the funding and capacity required to fulfill its responsibilities.[164]

Staff at Lebanese and international civil society organizations and NGOs complained that the Education Ministry’s reluctance to work with NGOs generally had reduced children’s access to needed services and argued that effective coordination could help compensate for the ministry’s lack of resources and capacity. One child psychologist said: “There are very few psychologists in the public schools. They only have guidance counsellors. NGOs have the resources to help – psychologists and social workers. In this way we can prevent the abuse.”[165]

Lack of Teacher Training

Studies indicate that teacher training in classroom management and positive discipline is an important component of programs that successfully reduce corporal punishment in schools.[166]  In a funding proposal to improve education in Lebanon, the World Bank reported in September 2016 that “effective non-violent classroom management has also been associated with increased teacher self-efficacy and increased student learning.” [167]

In August 2016, Lebanon pledged to design both a child protection policy (discussed above) and a new curriculum with “teacher-training modules” on classroom management and positive discipline, as well as a National Teacher Assessment Framework to check teachers’ competency in these and other areas.[168]

However, there is no legal or policy requirement in Lebanon for public or private school teachers to complete teacher-training courses before being hired, or for regular in-service trainings; the required qualification is a university degree.[169] In interviews with Lebanese academic researchers in 2014, teachers at Lebanese private religious and secular schools in 2014 said they had no training and were unprepared to meet the needs of the Syrian refugee children entering classrooms in increasing numbers.[170]

The Education Ministry has made some positive gestures toward more teacher training. The ministry’s 2018 child protection policy plans to include trainings by senior counsellors for all members of school staff as well as students.[171] As of December 2018, the Education Ministry had trained 600 staff from 300 public schools, in addition to 55 staff at the ministry’s Department of Pedagogy, on the Policy for the Protection of Students in the School Environment.[172] UNICEF reported that in 2018 it had supported “training sessions” for more than 10,000 teachers on principles including child protection.[173]

The ministry has also permitted NGOs to conduct trainings for Lebanese public and private school teachers and administrators that include sessions on children’s rights and corporal punishment. In March 2018 the Education Ministry permitted a Lebanese NGO, Himaya, that focuses on child protection, to work with children and train staff in public schools, for two months.[174] Himaya has also worked with private schools and community-based organizations to create and implement comprehensive child protection programs, which international school associations highlight as an important criterion for accrediting schools.[175] Ana Aqra, an NGO established in the 1990s to improve literacy rates and reduce drop-outs, provides trainings on children’s rights, trauma awareness, and a safe learning environment to between 700 and 1000 teachers annually at 260 public schools.[176]

A positive example of teacher training in Lebanon is the six-week intensive training course provided by Teach for Lebanon, an NGO that places university graduates – about 40 to 50 teachers at any given time – in under-serviced public or semi-private schools, for two-year periods. A former teacher with Teach for Lebanon, who later ran a project monitoring staff at 53 schools, described the importance of trainings for the program’s 23- to 29-year-old inductees, and the contrast with other teachers who are not given trainings:[177]

The trainings were from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. It was a boot camp for six weeks. We were taught basic methodologies of teaching, how to set a classroom vision, positive discipline. The [public school] teachers, instead of using positive reinforcement, may think it’s quicker and easier to wave the ruler around. That, to me, sheds light on the fact that the teachers need training and supervision. And we got professional development trainings once a month, on a Saturday. Each fellow is twinned with a mentor who’s an educational expert. Our mentors may see we need more support in how to control a classroom full of 40 students. Regular teachers don’t get that. We [fellows] got emotional and academic support, to keep us going. And finally, there is not enough evaluation of public school teachers’ performance to help them identify what aspects they should improve. But we did surveys – we have an anonymized way to say how children are feeling in our classes. It’s an assessment by the children themselves: how safe the classroom environment is, how much they’re academically benefitting from the teacher, does the teacher reinforce me, and we do this 360 of students twice a year in addition to looking at the teacher. Someone from [Teach for Lebanon] who’s not known to the students goes in and administers this, with the amount of detail in the questions and the length of time depending on the age of the students. [178]

 

IV. International Law on Corporal Punishment of Children at School

Lebanon has ratified key international conventions that guarantee children’s rights to quality education free from violence.[179] The Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges states to "take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse.”[180] According to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, “Children do not lose their human rights by virtue of passing through the school gates [...] the use of corporal punishment does not respect the inherent dignity of the child nor the strict limits on school discipline.”[181]

The committee defines corporal or physical punishment as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light. Most involves hitting … children, with the hand or with an implement.”[182] The committee concluded that corporal punishment is invariably degrading, as are other, non-physical forms of punishment that belittle, humiliate, denigrate, scapegoat, threaten, scare or ridicule the child. The Convention’s prohibition of all forms of physical or mental violence “does not leave room for any level of legalised violence against children. Corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment are forms of violence and the State must take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to eliminate them.”[183]

The Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights has found that corporal punishment and possibly “other aspects of school discipline” such as “public humiliation” are inconsistent with “the fundamental guiding principle of international human rights law … the dignity of the individual.”[184] States parties are obliged to ensure that discipline inconsistent with the Covenant does not occur in any public or private educational institution within its jurisdiction.

Under the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by consensus, all states agree to “end all forms of violence” against children (goal 16.2), and to measure the percentage of children who experienced any physical punishment and/or psychological aggression by caregivers in the past month (Indicator 16.2.1).

Lebanon’s Laws on Violence in Schools

The Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that Lebanon amend its criminal code to prohibit corporal punishment of children in 1996, 2002, and 2006.[185]

In June 2002, Lebanon adopted Law 422 for the Protection of Juvenile Delinquents and Endangered Juveniles, which obliges the judiciary to respond to any notification of child abuse. The law established six juvenile courts with specialized children’s judges, but the judges are also tasked with “multiple other functions” and “receive no mandatory specialized psychological training for dealing with child abuse,” according to a report by a prominent Lebanese university medical school. [186] The law mandates the Union for the Protection of Juveniles in Lebanon (UPEL), a public agency with six offices across the country, to follow up child protection cases.[187]

However, despite being the primary law related to child protection in Lebanon, Law 422 explicitly permits corporal punishment – consistent with the defense to the crime of assault against children in Penal Code article 186, before the article was partly revised to remove the defense for assaulting children in school settings.[188] Law 422, which applies in home as well as school settings, defines an “endangered youth” as a child subjected to “physical violence,” but only violence that “exceeds the limits of what is culturally acceptable as non-harmful disciplinary beating.”[189] The law does not create an obligation to report abuse, or specify a particular office to which to report cases of child abuse.[190] UNICEF has called for the law to be replaced with comprehensive child-protection legislation.[191]

After the third time that the Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that Lebanon amend its criminal code to prohibit corporal punishment of children, in 2006, a national task force was established, the Lebanese Intersectoral Board of Associations Network (LibanCAN), but this did not specifically address corporal punishment in schools.[192]

Following the 2015 UN Universal Periodic Review of its human rights record, Lebanon “accepted” Croatia’s recommendation to harmonize its national legislation with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, including on corporal punishment, but only “noted” Estonia’s direct recommendation to “prohibit all corporal punishment of children.”[193]

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in 2016, stated its concern at “statistics showing that most children experience violent ‘discipline’ at home and in school” and called on Lebanon to encourage “parents and teachers to abandon the practice” and to revise the amended Penal Code to prohibit corporal punishment in all settings; similarly, the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2017 called on Lebanon to “prohibit explicitly corporal punishment, however light, in all settings,” including public and private schools and in pre-primary and after-school education.[194]

A recent UN-sponsored international conference argued that donor states should negotiate development aid supporting education and healthcare around the prohibition of corporal punishment, and systematic work towards its elimination, given “the injustice of … financially supporting school systems in which corporal punishment is still authorised.”[195]

 

Acknowledgments

This report was written by Bill Van Esveld, senior researcher, and edited by Bede Sheppard, deputy director in the Children’s Rights Division, with additional review by Elin Martinez, children’s rights senior researcher. Nadine El Kobrously, an intern with the Children’s Rights Division, assisted with legal research. Charbel Salloum, research assistant in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) division, provided substantial research support. Aya Majzoub, a researcher in the MENA division, and Lama Fakih, the division’s acting director, edited the report. Clive Baldwin, Senior Legal Advisor, and Tom Porteous, deputy director in the Program office, reviewed the report. Production assistance was provided by Alex Firth, Associate in the Children’s Rights Division, who also contributed desk research, and Fitzroy Hepkins, Administrative Manager.

Human Rights Watch thanks the parents and children who shared their stories of violence in school with us in the hope that doing so will help end these abuses. We also thank the teachers, education and child protection specialists at NGOs and UN agencies, and officials at the Lebanese ministry of justice and ministry of education, who described current laws, policies and practices with us.

 

 

[1] Society for Adolescent Medicine, Position Paper: Corporal Punishment in Schools, 32:5 J. Adolescent Health 385, 388 (2003).

[2] American Civil Liberties Union & Human Rights Watch, Impairing Education, (2009), pp. 42-3, http://www.aclu.org/human-rights/impairing-education-corporal-punishment...

[3] Sandee Lamotte, “Banning spanking and other corporal punishment tied to less youth violence,” CNN, October 15, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/15/health/spanking-ban-global-youth-violence... (accessed February 3, 2019).

[4] “Position statement on corporal punishment,” Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, November 2009, http://rcpch.adlibhosting.com/files/Corporal%20Punishment%20Position%20S... “Australian Psychological Society—Punishment and Behavior Change,” Australia, Legislative Questions, No. 0293, October 1996, https://web.archive.org/web/20080503222048/http://www.parliament.nsw.gov... (both accessed December 2, 2018). In 2018 the American Association of Pediatricians reported that a large, longitudinal study found that repeated spanking of children by parents created “a complex negative spiral” that led to “more aggressive behaviors, increased aggression in school, and an increased risk of mental health disorders and cognitive problems.” Ronald Sege, “AAP policy opposes corporal punishment, draws on recent evidence,” American Association of Pediatricians, November 5, 2018, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/106/2/343.full?sid=672fca4... (accessed November 10, 2018).

[5] American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, “Corporal Punishment in Schools,” 2014, https://www.aacap.org/aacap/policy_statements/1988/Corporal_Punishment_i... (updated 2014, accessed January 10, 2019).

[6] Eid Bassam, Touma Boulos Marianne, Lydia Khabbaz Rabbaa & Bernard Gerbaka, “Corporal punishment of children: discipline or abuse?,” Libyan Journal of Medicine, 13:1, 2018, DOI: 10.1080/19932820.2018.1485456 (accessed November 20, 2018).

[7] “Education rapid needs assessment for displaced Syrian children in schools, community and safe spaces,” UNICEF and Save the Children, 2012, p. 8, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/36499 (accessed December 10, 2018).

[8] Right to a Future: Threats to Material Safety, Working Group for Persons Affected by the Syrian Displacement Crisis in Lebanon, October 2017, p. 12, https://alefliban.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Material-Safety_v02_web... (accessed September 18, 2018).

[9] Human Rights Watch interview with education expert from international NGO, Beirut, May 11, 2018.

[10] Lebanese students who said they “almost never” suffered physical or verbal violence achieved an average score of 456 in math, as measured by an international assessment model (TIMSS, where an “intermediate” score is 475 and “low” is 400); children who reported “monthly” abuse scored 446; and the 19 percent of children who suffered abuse on a weekly basis scored 412. The Trends in International Math and Science Study assessment data is from 2015; for other international scores, see National Center for Education Statistics, “Mathematics for Grades 4 and 8: International Benchmarks,” 2015, https://nces.ed.gov/timss/timss2015/timss2015_figure01.asp. World Bank, Research for Results (R4R), 2019, Volume 1.

[11] In the United States, schools in states where corporal punishment is frequently used also performed worse academically than those in states that prohibit corporal punishment. From 1994 to 2008, children from states that used corporal punishment the most, improved the least on standardized test scores. Michael Hickmon, “Study: Paddling vs. ACT Scores and Civil Immunity Legislation”, 2008, http://www.stophitting.com/index.php?page=paddlingvsact.

[12] See the “legality” sections of the country reports of The Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children https://endcorporalpunishment.org/reports-on-every-state-and-territory/ (accessed March 10, 2019).

[13] Reaching All Children with Education, Program Management Unit, “RACE II Fact Sheet November 2018,” Ministry of Education and Higher Education. racepmulebanon.com/images/fact-sheet-november-2018.pdf (accessed January 5, 2018).

[14] Some Muslim charities and educational associations have networks of dozens of schools each. Hassan Lama’a, “How Political Islam schools shape new generations in Lebanon,” Raseef, January 23, 2018, https://raseef22.com/en/politics/2018/01/23/political-islam-schools-shap... (accessed November 20, 2018). Students at religious private schools are not always of the same faith. At one Jesuit school in the Bekaa valley, 87 percent of the students were reportedly Muslim. Doreen Abi Raad, “Future of Lebanon’s Catholic schools at risk under new salary rules,” Catholic News Service, October 14, 2018, https://cruxnow.com/church-in-asia-oceania/2018/10/14/future-of-lebanons... (accessed November 20,2018).

[15] UNICEF, “Syria Crisis Humanitarian Situation Report – October 2018,” p. 17, citing Government of Lebanon and the United Nations, Lebanon Crisis Response Plan 2017 – 2020 (2018 update),

 https://www.unicef.org/appeals/files/UNICEF_Syria_Crisis_Humanitarian_Si... (accessed December 4, 2018).

[16] Research in Sweden and other European countries has identified legislation that clearly outlawed corporal punishment as well as public outreach campaigns as necessary to successful reduction of corporal punishment at schools. See e.g. Kai-D. Bussmann, Claudia Erthal and Andreas Schroth, “Impact en Europe de l'interdiction des châtiments corporels,”

Déviance et Société 2012/1 (Vol. 36), pp. 85-106, https://www.cairn.info/revue-deviance-et-societe-2012-1-page-85.htm# (accessed February 3, 2019).

[17] Save the Children Sweden, Child Rights Situation Analysis: Lebanon, November 2011, p. 43, https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/node/5759/pdf/5759.pdf (accessed December 9, 2018).

[18] “Le rapport du Conseil Supérieur de l’Enfance au Liban,” 1998, p. 39, cited in University Centre for Family and Community Health, Desk Research for: Situational Analysis Study on Children in Need of Protection from Violence, Exploitation and Abuse in Lebanon, Université Saint-Joseph, Beirut, June 2006, pp. 29-30,

https://cusfc.usj.edu.lb/oeil/images/stories/pub/pub-1%20.pdf (accessed September 18, 2018).

[19] Salim Adib, “Experience of Violence among Schoolchildren in Lebanon”, Department of Public Health, Saint Joseph University, slides 8, 11, 17, https://slideplayer.com/slide/10021095/ (accessed December 6, 2018).

[20] Save the Children Sweden, Child Rights Situation Analysis: Lebanon, November 2011, pp. 3, 117, 108, 158.

[21] UNICEF and Save the Children, Education rapid needs assessment for displaced Syrian children in schools, community and safe spaces, 2012, p. 31, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/36499 (accessed December 10, 2018).

[22] Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Reaching All Children with Education in Lebanon, June 2014, p. 22, http://www.mehe.gov.lb/uploads/file/2015/Feb2015/Projects/RACEfinalEngli... (accessed December 5, 2018).

[23] Reaching All Children With Education Program Management Unit, “RACE II Fact Sheet, July 2018,” Ministry of Education and Higher Education, p. 1, http://racepmulebanon.com/images/MEHE_REC_Fact_Sheet_July_2018.pdf (accessed February 2, 2018).

[24] Ibid.

[25] UNICEF, “Syria Crisis Humanitarian Situation Report – October 2018,” p. 17, https://www.unicef.org/appeals/files/UNICEF_Syria_Crisis_Humanitarian_Si... (accessed December 4, 2018).

[26] UNHCR, “Syria Regional Refugee Response: Lebanon,” https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/syria/location/71 (accessed December 4, 2018).

[27] ALEF, Manara, and Naba’a, Findings Report: Child Led Data Collection – 2016, p.13, https://alefliban.org/publications/findings-report-child-led-data-collec... (accessed September 20, 2018).

[28] UNICEF survey results presented at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, May 10, 2018, upon the introduction of the Child Protection Policy.

[29] UN Habitat and UNICEF, “El Qobbeh and Tabbaneh Neighborhood Profiles 2018 (Tripoli, Lebanon),” pp. 37-38, September 2018, https://www.unicef.org/lebanon/reports/el-qobbeh-and-tabbaneh-neighbourh... (accessed February 20, 2018).

[30] Ibid.

[31] World Bank, Research for Results (R4R), 2019, Volume 1.

[32] A 2018 survey by Save the Children, in coordination with the Education Ministry, found that half the children surveyed had experienced bullying at some point, that 21 percent were bullied several times a week, and that 16 percent of bullying victims skipped school and 12 percent dropped out altogether as a result. Save the Children, “Bullying in Lebanon: Research Summary,” October 2018, pp. 5, 7, 9, https://lebanon.savethechildren.net/sites/lebanon.savethechildren.net/fi... (accessed November 24, 2018).

[33] Ministry of Education and Higher Education, “RACE II: Reaching All Children with Education - Lebanon,” no date, http://racepmulebanon.com/index.php/features-mainmenu-47/race2-article (accessed December 1, 2018).

[34] International Alert, “School for stability: Examining the role of education in fostering social stability in Lebanon,” 2017, https://www.international-alert.org/sites/default/files/Lebanon_SchoolFo... (accessed September 20, 2018).

[35] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Manal, February 9, 2019.

[36] Human Rights Watch interview with Rana, November 26, 2018.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Human Rights Watch interviews with S., November 12, and Z., Mount Lebanon governorate, November 26, 2018.

[39] Human Rights Watch interview with S., Mount Lebanon governorate, November 12, 2018.

[40] Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmad, North governorate, November 26, 2018.

[41] Human Rights Watch interviews with Ghaith, Rawan, and their mother, Baalbek-Hermel governorate, October 2, 2018.

[42] Email from teacher (name withheld) to Human Rights Watch, January 29, 2019.

[43] Human Rights Watch interviews with Rasha, Fadi, Baalbek-Hermel governorate, October 2, 2018.

[44] Two Facebook posts and three video clips of television news stories about Fadi’s case, on file with Human Rights Watch. Separately, Human Rights Watch has documented widespread discrimination against children with disabilities in Lebanon’s education system. Human Rights Watch, “I Would Like to Go to School”: Barriers to Education for Children with Disabilities in Lebanon, March 22, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/03/22/i-would-go-school/barriers-educati....

[45] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammed, his sister Amna, and mother Riham, Bekaa valley, February 15, 2018.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Human Rights Watch interviews with Rauf (individually), his sister Abeer (individually), and together with their sister Leila and their mother Ghada, Southern governorate, May 14, 2018.

[49] Human Rights Watch interview with Abeer, Southern governorate, May 14, 2018.

[50] Human Rights Watch interview with Leila, Southern governorate, May 14, 2018.

[51] Human Rights Watch interview with Ghada, Southern governorate, May 14, 2018.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO staff, Southern governorate, by telephone on May 12 and in person on May 14, 2018.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview, child protection officer, Beirut, October 5, 2018.

[54] Human Rights Watch interview with Education Community Liaison volunteer, Baalbek, October 3, 2018.

[55] Human Rights Watch with NGO child protection staff, Beirut, September 26, 2018.

[56] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with former teacher, February 5, 2019.

[57] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO staff, Bekaa valley, February 13, 2018.

[58] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO staff, Beirut, May 14, 2018.

[59] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO staff, Baalbek-Hermel governorate, October 2, 2018.

[60] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Fouad and Yousef, February 7, 2019.

[61] Image on file with Human Rights Watch.

[62] Human Rights Watch follow-up telephone call with Fouad, February 9, 2019.

[63] Among others, Human Rights Watch interviews with Mousa, Southern governorate, May 14, 2018, and with Ghada, Southern governorate, May 14, 2018.

[64] Human Rights Watch interviews, NGO staff, January 9, 2018; September 25, 2018; February 5, 2019.

[65] Human Rights Watch interview, NGO protection officer, Bekaa governorate, January 9, 2018.

[66] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO education expert, Bekaa governorate, September 25, 2018.

[67] Human Rights Watch interviews, NGO staff, Beirut, May 16, 2018.

[68] International Alert, “School for stability: Examining the role of education in fostering social stability in Lebanon,” 2017, p. 22, https://www.international-alert.org/sites/default/files/Lebanon_SchoolFo... (accessed September 20, 2018).

[69] Human Rights Watch interview with Mousa (individually, and together with his family), Southern governorate, May 14, 2018.

[70] Syrians living in Lebanon, especially those who lack legal residency, have been subjected to forcible relocation, arrests and detention, and other abuses by local municipal authorities and security forces. Human Rights Watch, “Our Homes Are Not for Strangers”: Mass Evictions of Syrian Refugees by Lebanese Municipalities, April 20, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/04/20/our-homes-are-not-strangers/mass-e... “I Just Wanted to Be Treated Like A Person”: How Lebanon’s Residency Rules Facilitate Abuse of Syrian Refugees, January 12, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/01/12/i-just-wanted-be-treated-person/ho....

[71] Human Rights Watch interviews with NGO staff, Southern governorate, May 12 and 14, 2018.

[72] Human Rights Watch, “I Just Wanted to Be Treated Like A Person”: How Lebanon’s Residency Rules Facilitate Abuse of Syrian Refugees, January 12, 2016.

[73] Human Rights Watch interviews with NGO staff, Southern governorate, May 12 and 14, 2018, and in Beirut, April 20, 2019.

[74] Human Rights Watch interview with international NGO education expert, Beirut, May 11, 2018.

[75] Human Rights Watch interview with Hamed and his children, Akkar governorate, May 15, 2018.

[76] Human Rights Watch interview with Rania, Akkar governorate, May 15, 2018.

[77] Human Rights Watch email correspondence with NGO staff, April 20, 2019.

[78] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO educator, Bekaa governorate, December 15, 2017.

[79] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO education expert, Bekaa governorate, September 25, 2018.

[80] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO educator, Bekaa governorate, May 8, 2018.

[81] Human Rights Watch interview with Mahmoud and his mother Heba, Bekaa governorate, December 14, 2017.

[82] Human Rights Watch interview with Badr and his mother Randa, Bekaa governorate, December 14, 2017.

[83] Human Rights Watch interview with Randa, December 14, 2017.

[84] Human Rights Watch with NGO child protection staff, Beirut, September 26, 2018.

[85] Human Rights Watch focus group interviews with four primary school students, Beirut, May 10, 2018.

[86] Human Rights Watch with NGO child protection staff, Beirut, September 26, 2018.

[87] Email from teacher to Human Rights Watch, January 29, 2019 and phone interview on February 6, 2019.

[88] For instance, one NGO worked with four volunteers in two public schools in the 2016-2017 school year, and expanded to 74 volunteers in 37 schools in the Bekaa valley in 2017-2018. Human Rights Watch interview with NGO child protection staff, Beirut, May 9, 2018.

[89] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO child protection staff, Beirut, May 9, 2018.

[90] Human Rights Watch interview with Education Community Liaison volunteer, Bekaa governorate, October 4, 2018.

[91] Human Rights Watch interview with Education Community Liaison volunteer, Bekaa valley, October 4, 2018.

[92] Human Rights Watch interviews, NGO child protection specialist, Beirut, September 27, 2018; Education Ministry official, Beirut, October 2, 2018.

[93] Ahmad Al Turk et al, “Reporting Child Abuse in Lebanon: Process and Limitations,” American University of Beirut Medical School, 2014, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/260981070_Reporting_Child_Abuse... (accessed December 2, 2018).

[94] Penal Code of Lebanon, Article 186(1), 1943 (without amendments), https://sherloc.unodc.org/res/cld/document/lebanon-penal-code_html/Leban... (accessed November 10, 2018).

[95] Diana Semaan (Human Rights Watch), “Lebanon: Time to Ban Corporal Punishment for Good,” Commentary, Executive Magazine, April 29, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/04/29/time-ban-corporal-punishment-good.

[96] Parliament first voted to revoke article 186 entirely, but then reinstated a revised version of the article, following objections from religious leaders who claimed that prohibiting parents from using corporal punishment would harm family unity. Diana Semaan (Human Rights Watch), “Lebanon: Time to Ban Corporal Punishment for Good.”

[97] Ministry of Justice, “Figures from Juvenile Courts in Lebanon from 01/01/2017 to 31/12/2017: Preliminary investigation, number of incidents,” http://ahdath.justice.gov.lb/Excel/Full%202017/t%2003.pdf (accessed March 10, 2019).

[98] Letter from Ministry of Justice to Human Rights Watch, April 18, 2019.

[99] Ahmad Al Turk et al, “Reporting Child Abuse in Lebanon: Process and Limitations,” American University of Beirut Medical School, 2014.

[100] Cited in “Le rapport du Conseil Supérieur de l’Enfance au Liban,” 1998, p. 39; quoted in University Centre for Family and Community Health, “Desk Research for: Situational Analysis Study on Children in Need of Protection from Violence, Exploitation and Abuse in Lebanon,” Université Saint-Joseph, Beirut, June 2006, https://cusfc.usj.edu.lb/oeil/images/stories/pub/pub-1%20.pdf (accessed September 18, 2018), pp. 29-30.

[101] Article 41 of Decision No. 1130/m/2001 dated 10/9/2001, cited in UNICEF, Strengthening the Child Protection System in Lebanon: Challenges and Opportunities, 2012, p. 46, https://elfs.usj.edu.lb/doc/Stengthening%20the%20child%20protection%20sy... (accessed December 12, 2018).

[102] Rima K. Akkary, “The role and role context of the Lebanese school principal: Toward a culturally grounded understanding of the principalship,” Educational Management Administration & Leadership, Vol. 42(5), 2014, p. 720, available at http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.888.6614&rep=re... (accessed December 1, 2018).

[103] Legislative Decree No. 112, issued on 12/6/1959, http://www.cib.gov.lb/lot/112.htm (accessed April 2, 2019). Educational staff may be fired for violations (art. 73) of the decree or of Lebanese law (art. 14) and brought before a Disciplinary Council (art. 62) or “before the courts” for crimes under the Penal Code and other applicable laws (art. 61). The Ministry of Education and Higher Education cites the 1959 decree in its Policy for the Protection of Children in the School Environment (draft English translation on file with Human Rights Watch), p. 13, May 14, 2018.

[104] Mohammad Zaatari, “Parents defend principal who beat kids,” The Daily Star, March 27, 2014, https://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2014/Mar-27/251388-parent... (accessed September 20, 2018).

[105] Human Rights Watch interview with Education Ministry official, Beirut, October 3, 2018.

[106] Letter from Human Rights Watch to the Minister of Education, dated April 10, 2019.

[107] Email to Human Rights Watch from NGO staff, April 12, 2019.

[108] Human Rights Watch interview with education specialist, Beirut, October 2, 2018.

[109] UNICEF Lebanon reported the funding gap was “due to a significant increase in earmarked funding, unpredictability of funding (timing and amount) and limited willingness by donors to fund cross-sectoral costs.” UNICEF, Annual Report 2017: Lebanon, p. 2, https://www.unicef.org/about/annualreport/files/Lebanon_2017_COAR.pdf (accessed December 12, 2018).

[110] Human Rights Watch interview with Education Ministry staff, Beirut, October 2, 2018; Reaching All Children with Education, Program Management Unit, “RACE II Fact Sheet November 2018,” Ministry of Education and Higher Education. racepmulebanon.com/images/fact-sheet-november-2018.pdf (accessed January 5, 2018).

[111] UNICEF, “Child protection in education,” Education sector meeting, April 18, 2018, slideshow presentation, slide 5, on file with Human Rights Watch. 

[112] Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Reaching All Children with Education: RACE II (2017-2021), August 2016, pp. 8, 11, 14, http://www.mehe.gov.lb/uploads/file/2016/Oct/RACE%20II_FINAL%20Narrative... (accessed December 6, 2018).

[113] Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Policy for the Protection of Children in the School Environment (draft English translation on file with Human Rights Watch), p. 15, May 14, 2018.

[114] Emphases in original. Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Policy for the Protection of Children in the School Environment (draft English translation on file with Human Rights Watch), pp. 29-30, May 14, 2018.

[115] Ibid.

[116] Ibid.

[117] Ibid.

[118] UNICEF, “Syria Crisis Humanitarian Situation Report – July 2018,” p. 16, https://www.unicef.org/appeals/files/UNICEF_Syria_Crisis_Humanitarian_Si... (accessed December 5, 2018).

[119] UNICEF, “Child protection in education,” Education sector meeting, April 18, 2018, slideshow presentation, slide 3, on file with Human Rights Watch. 

[120] Human Rights Watch interview, education specialist, Beirut, October 2, 2018. 

[121] Human Rights Watch interview with Education Ministry staff, Beirut, October 2, 2018.

[122] Ibid. See also UNICEF, “Syria Crisis 2018 Humanitarian Results,” December 2018, p. 21, https://www.unicef.org/appeals/files/UNICEF_Syria_Crisis_Humanitarian_Situation_Report_December_2018.pdf (accessed April 28, 2019).

[123] Human Rights Watch interview with Education Ministry staff, Beirut, October 2, 2018.

[124] Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Policy for the Protection of Children in the School Environment (draft English translation on file with Human Rights Watch), p. 24, May 14, 2018.

[125] Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Policy for the Protection of Children in the School Environment (draft English translation on file with Human Rights Watch), Annexes 1-4; citation is to “Annex 3. Professional commitment,” p. 52, May 14, 2018.

[126] Report of the independent expert for the United Nations study on violence against children, August 29, 2006, p. 29, A/61/299, https://www.unicef.org/violencestudy/reports/SG_violencestudy_en.pdf (accessed October 20, 2018).

[127] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO education specialist, Beirut, January 10, 2018.

[128] “Bou Saab Pledges Strict Measures against Beatings at School,” Naharnet, March 26, 2014, http://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/123927 (accessed December 5, 2018).

[129] “للنشر - تعنيف طفل في إحدى مدارس البقاع... ووزير التربية يتدخل مباشرةً على الهواء!”, Al Jadeed, October 7, 2016,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJGDH-Pk1OA (uploaded November 7, 2016, accessed November 25, 2018).

[130] “Education minister fires teacher on live TV over corporal punishment,” Daily Star, November 9, 2016,

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2016/Nov-09/380471-educati... (accessed November 10, 2018).

[131] See Case Studies, Section II above.

[132]Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Policy for the Protection of Children in the School Environment (draft English translation on file with Human Rights Watch), “Figure No 5: Methodology for dealing with the cases of violence in the school environment,” p. 37, May 14, 2018.

[133] Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Reaching All Children with Education: RACE II (2017-2021), August 2016, p. 17, http://www.mehe.gov.lb/uploads/file/2016/Oct/RACE%20II_FINAL%20Narrative... (accessed December 6, 2018); Human Rights Watch interview with Education Ministry official, Beirut, October 2, 2018.

[134] Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Policy for the Protection of Children in the School Environment (draft English translation on file with Human Rights Watch), p. 38, May 14, 2018.

[135] Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Policy for the Protection of Children in the School Environment (draft English translation on file with Human Rights Watch), “Chapter 3. Methodology for dealing with cases of violence in the school environment,” p. 37, May 14, 2018.

[136] Human Rights Watch interview with Education Ministry official, Beirut, October 3, 2018.

[137] Human Rights Watch interviews, NGO staff, Beirut, May 16, 2018.

[138] Human Rights Watch interview with Ministry of Education and Higher Education staff, October 5, 2018.

[139] Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Policy for the Protection of Children in the School Environment (draft English translation on file with Human Rights Watch), p. 50, May 14, 2018.

[140] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO education specialist, Beirut, January 10, 2018.

[141] Maha Shuayb, Nisrine Makkouk, Suha Tutunji, “Widening Access to Quality Education for Syrian Refugees: the role of the private and NGO sectors in Lebanon,” Center for Lebanese Studies, LAU, p. 10, September 2014, https://lebanesestudies.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Widening-Access-t...

[142] Ibid.

[143] Human Rights Watch interviews with staff at nine Lebanese and international NGOs, Lebanon, 2018-2019.

[144] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO education specialist, Beirut, January 10, 2018.

[145] Human Rights Watch meeting with Education Ministry staff, Beirut, October 3, 2018. By contrast, UNICEF reported that a special “call center” was set up at the start of the 2016-2017 school year “to provide advice and field complaints relating to children’s access to public schools,” and that it received 10,606 calls over a period of two months. UNICEF, Annual Report 2016: Lebanon, p. 38, https://www.unicef.org/about/annualreport/files/Lebanon_2016_COAR.pdf (accessed December 12, 2018).

[146] World Bank, “Lebanon - Reaching All Children with Education (RACE 2) Program for Results Project,” Report No. 108014, Annex 8, p. 98, September 2, 2016, http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/980641475200856910/pdf/Lebaon-... (accessed December 10, 2018).

[147] Human Rights Watch interviews, Bekaa, Akkar, Beirut, November 2018.

[148] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO director, Beirut, February 14, 2018.

[149] Human Rights Watch interview with Education Ministry official, Beirut, October 3, 2018.

[150] Human Rights Watch interview, NGO education specialist, Beirut, February 15, 2018.

[151] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO staff member, Bekaa valley, September 29, 2018.

[152] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO child protection specialist, Beirut, May 10, 2018.

[153] Human Rights Watch interviews with NGO staff, Beirut, Bekaa and North governorates, September and November 2018.

[154] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO education expert, Bekaa governorate, September 25, 2018.

[155] Human Rights Watch interview, NGO child protection officer, Beirut, May 9, 2018.

[156] Human Rights Watch interview, NGO protection and advocacy officer, Beirut, May 10, 2018.

[157] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO education expert, Bekaa governorate, September 25, 2018.

[158] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO education expert, Beirut, October 4, 2018.

[159] Elizabeth Buckner, Dominique Spenser, “Educating Syrian Refugees in Lebanon,” May 4, 2016, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, https://carnegieendowment.org/sada/63513 (accessed February 10, 2019), citing El-Ghali, Ghalayini, and Ismail, “Responding to Crisis: Syrian Refugee Education in Lebanon,” Policy Brief No 7, Issam Fares Institute, American University of Beirut, March 2016, http://website.aub.edu.lb/ifi/publications/Documents/policy_memos/2015-2...

[160] Save the Children, Bullying in Lebanon: Research Summary, October 2018, https://lebanon.savethechildren.net/sites/lebanon.savethechildren.net/fi... in Lebanon_Research Summary_English.pdf  (accessed March 2, 2019).

[161] Human Rights Watch interviews, NGO and international agency staff, Beirut, November 8 and 9, 2018.

[162] Human Rights Watch meeting with Education Ministry staff, Beirut, October 3, 2018.

[163] Ibid.

[164] Human Rights Watch phone call with Education Ministry official, November 20, 2018.

[165] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO staff, Bekaa governorate, October 2, 2018.

[166] Pereznieto P., Harper C., Clench B., & Coarasa J., “The Economic Impact of Corporal Punishment: A Report for Plan International,” Overseas Development Initiative, p. 24, https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opini... (accessed April 23, 2019).

[167] World Bank, “Lebanon - Reaching All Children with Education (RACE 2) Program for Results Project,” Report No. 108014, p. 26, September 2, 2016.

[168] Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Reaching All Children with Education: RACE II (2017-2021), August 2016, Outputs 2.1 and 3.3, pp. 14, 17, http://www.mehe.gov.lb/uploads/file/2016/Oct/RACE%20II_FINAL%20Narrative...  (accessed February 10, 2019).

[169] Human Rights Watch, “Growing Up Without an Education”: Barriers to Education for Syrian Refugee Children in Lebanon, July 19, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/07/19/growing-without-education/barriers....

[170] Maha Shuayb, Nisrine Makkouk, Suha Tutunji, Widening Access to Quality Education for Syrian Refugees: the role of the private and NGO sectors in Lebanon, Center for Lebanese Studies, Lebanese American University, pp. 92-93, September 2014, https://lebanesestudies.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Widening-Access-t...

[171] Human Rights Watch interview, Ministry of Education official, Beirut, October 5, 2018.

[172] UNICEF, “Syria Crisis Humanitarian Situation Report – December 2018,” p. 21, https://www.unicef.org/appeals/files/UNICEF_Syria_Crisis_Humanitarian_Si... (accessed April 28, 2019).

[173] UNICEF, “Syria Crisis Humanitarian Situation Report – December 2018,” p. 20,

[174] Human Rights Watch interview with Himaya staff, Beirut, September 25, 2018.

[175] Human Rights Watch interviews, Himaya, and emails with staff at a private school network in Beirut, October 2018; Council of International Schools, https://www.cois.org, see links for “School Membership,” “International Accreditation,” “Student Well-being,” and “International Task Force on Child Protection”; New England Association of Schools and Colleges, “Standards for Independent School Accreditation,” “Standard 12 – Health and Safety,” https://cis.neasc.org/standards (accessed April 20, 2019).

[176] Human Rights Watch interviews, Ana Aqra staff, Beirut, May 16, 2018.

[177] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Dahlia Rizk, Teach for Lebanon, February 5, 2019.

[178] Ibid.

[179] These include the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which Lebanon ratified without reservations relevant to corporal punishment or verbal abuse at schools. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), “Status of Ratification, Interactive Dashboard”, undated, indicators.ohchr.org (accessed April 14, 2016).

[180] Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted November 20, 1989, G.A. Res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 167, U.N. Doc. A/44/49 (1989), entered into force September 2, 1990, ratified by Lebanon on May 14, 1991, art. 19.

[181] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment 8 (2006), “The right of the child to protection from corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment,” UN Doc CRC/C/GC/8 (2006), https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/TBSearch.aspx?L... (accessed April 27, 2019).

[182] Ibid.

[183] Ibid.

[184] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “The right to education,” General Comment no. 13, paragraph 41, E/C.12/1999/10, December 8, 1999.

[185] See CRC/C/15/Add.54 (1996), para. 37; CRC/C/15/Add.169 (2002), paras. 38 and 39; and CRC/C/LEB/CO/3 (2006), paras. 41 and 42).  As noted in the Summary prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in accordance with paragraph 15 (c) of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 5/1, Lebanon, A/HRC/WG.6/9/LBN/3/Rev.1, October 28, 2010, paragraph 38, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/LBIndex.aspx (accessed December 2, 2018).

[186] Ahmad Al Turk et al, “Reporting Child Abuse in Lebanon: Process and Limitations,” American University of Beirut Medical School, 2014, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/260981070_Reporting_Child_Abuse... (accessed December 2, 2018).

[187] UPEL was recognized as a Public Utility in 1939. “About Us,” http://www.upel.org/ (accessed December 14, 2018).

[188] For analysis, see Annex III, p. 126ff, in UNICEF, Strengthening the Child Protection System in Lebanon: Challenges and Opportunities, 2012, https://elfs.usj.edu.lb/doc/Stengthening%20the%20child%20protection%20sy...  (accessed December 12, 2018).

[189] Law 422/2002, Article 25(2), Cited in Save the Children Sweden, “Child Rights Situation Analysis: Lebanon,” November 2011, p. 65, https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/node/5759/pdf/5759.pdf (accessed December 9, 2018).

[190] Physicians who become aware in the course of their professional conduct of a child’s “abusive confinement, mistreatment or deprivation” are obliged by the Lebanese Code of Medical Ethics to report to “the appropriate authorities.” Lebanon, Code of Medical Ethics, Law no. 240 dated October 22, 2012 Amending Law No. 288 of February 22, 1994, Article 7(15), https://website.aub.edu.lb/fm/shbpp/ethics/public/Documents/New-Code-of-... (accessed December 2, 2018).

[191] UNICEF, Strengthening the Child Protection System in Lebanon: Challenges and Opportunities, 2012, p. 114, https://elfs.usj.edu.lb/doc/Stengthening%20the%20child%20protection%20sy...(accessed December 12, 2018).

[192] Manara Network, Violence Against Children in Schools: A Regional Analysis of Lebanon, Morocco and Yemen, August 2011, p. 30, http://www.ibcr.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Violence-against-children... (accessed September 18, 2018).

[193] Cited in Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment Against Children, “Universal Periodic Review of Lebanon’s human rights record,” July 2017, https://endcorporalpunishment.org/reports-on-every-state-and-territory/l... (accessed December 13, 2018).

[194] Committee on the Rights of the Child, “Concluding observations on fourth/fifth report of Lebanon,” June 22, 2017, CRC/C/LBN/CO/4-5; and Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “Concluding observations on second report of Lebanon,” October 24, 2016, E/C.12/LBN/CO/2, cited in Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment Against Children, “Recommendations by human rights treaty bodies,” July 2017, https://endcorporalpunishment.org/reports-on-every-state-and-territory/l... (accessed December 13, 2018).

[195] Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, Working toward universal prohibition of corporal punishment: A special report for the high level global conference held by H.E. the President of Malta, May-June 2018, p. 16, http://endcorporalpunishment.org/wp-content/uploads/global/Special-repor... (accessed December 18, 2018).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Diagnosed with leukemia when he was 5, Fadi (not his real name) was still experiencing side-effects from his treatment when Human Rights Watch researcher Bill Van Esveld went to speak to him and his mum about the abuse he’d suffered in his old school in Lebanon’s Bekaa governorate.

Sitting on a sofa their living room, Fadi’s mum, “Rasha,” explained to Van Esveld that Fadi’s medication and treatment made it hard for her son to concentrate. But instead of helping him, the school staff berated him, hurling verbal insults and physically abusing the young boy. One teacher would pull his hair, call him an idiot or a “donkey,” and force him to stand outside. Rasha complained to the school director – who Fadi said also pulled his hair – but she told Rasha her son should be in an institution for children with disabilities.

Fadi has a serious medical condition, not a disability. But the director was open about wanting to kick him out. In Lebanon, children with disabilities who should be accommodated in schools are instead often sent to institutions that aren’t even mandated to provide an education.

Since Lebanon opened classes for Syrian refugee students, the number of children in public schools has more than doubled. But teachers need training in positive discipline. Syrian children said they were insulted and often banned from going to the bathroom at school.

© 2019 Dadu Shin for Human Rights Watch

“He gets severe headaches, and when he got them the director would call me and say, ‘don’t bring him here anymore,’” she told Van Esveld. According to Fadi, he had also missed an exam because he fell due to his illness and broke his jaw, which he said annoyed the principal.

Physical abuse of students is widespread in Lebanon, despite it being illegal since the 1970s. In a new report, “I Don’t Want My Child to Be Beaten,” Human Rights Watch researchers spoke to 51 children, as well as parents, teachers, and education campaigners about what is going on in the country’s schools. What they found amounted to a human rights abuse.

Fadi had originally been in a private school in the Baalbek-Hermel governorate, but when the family moved to a different town in the Bekaa region for work, his parents couldn’t afford to pay for education. He entered the public system when he was nine years old.

It was at this public school that Rasha noticed the teaching staff did not behave decently towards her son and failed to make accommodations to help him learn. When Rasha went to the school to complain, which she did at least four times, she was told that her son couldn’t be given any “special treatment.” Far from special treatment, all she was asking was that they stop emotionally and physically abusing her sick child.

Fadi became the focus of one teacher in particular, who would call him a “donkey” when his headaches made it difficult for him to concentrate, and who forced Fadi to stand outside in the cold as punishment.

For Rasha, who is also looking after Fadi’s two siblings, the emotional distress compounded the worry surrounding Fadi’s health. Every day, she saw her son come home from school miserable and crying on top of everything else he was dealing with.

On the outside, she tried to stay happy and positive, supporting her son and trying to keep him calm and help him through his illness, but inside she was in shock at how he was being treated and how little the school seemed to care.

Rasha made coffee as she spoke about her son and discussed how the frustration she felt led her to help Fadi write a public post on Facebook. The family is Palestinian and Rasha’s concerns about the prejudice Palestinians can face in Lebanon meant she only complained publicly after she exhausted all her other options. After his parents separated, Fadi was even more reliant on Rasha. She became his entire support network.

“There was no one else for me to complain to,” she said. Fadi’s teacher had even pulled Fadi’s hair in front of his mother when she went to the school to complain, as if the abuse had become an unthinking part of the teacher’s routine.

 Lebanon’s Education Ministry bans violent discipline at school, but it is not adequately enforced. In some children are suffering physical injuries. When a teacher broke “Charbel’s” nose, no one from the school called his family to let them know.

© 2019 Dadu Shin for Human Rights Watch

After the posts got some attention, the minister of education was interviewed by a local television station, and suggested on-air that the family could follow up on Fadi’s case with ministry officials in Beirut. Another news segment recorded the school principal saying Fadi should be in an institution and that his appearance, as a result of his chemotherapy, upset the other children. Despite all this, Rasha says, no one from the ministry followed up with her, and the abuse continued.

“I was trying so hard to keep him emotionally strong, and not upset, because that’s the most important thing when you have cancer. And he’d come home upset every single day. He hated going to school,” she said.

In 2018, Lebanon launched a child protection policy which specifically includes a provision banning teachers from harming pupils. But similar prohibitions have been in place for decades. The laws are rarely enforced and teachers breaking them often don’t face any consequences.

Parents told Human Rights Watch about their kids being beaten with sticks and other objects, hit in the face, and dragged from under desks where they were trying to escape the beating, only to be hit again.

One ten-year-old boy was yanked upwards by his nose twice, breaking it, and his mother only found out when he returned home covered in blood. A girl was accused of cheating by a teacher who suspected her of using a calculator in math class. She was beaten round the face so harshly it was still bright red and swollen when she went home two hours later. Some parents go straight to the police when they see the state of their children, and told Human Rights Watch about their frustration when the police failed to take any action.

The problem is even more acute for the children of Syrian refugees – 210,000 of whom attend public schools in Lebanon – as their families are often too terrified to complain because of their tenuous status in the county. In one case, the abuse of Syrian children in a school got so bad the entire community pulled their kids out of class and refused to send them back until the issues – like refusing to give them access to the bathroom and beating them – were dealt with.

Fortunately for Fadi, a choice did eventually present itself. Rasha did some research and found a private school offering scholarships to low-income families, and he was able to switch last year. Fadil now enjoys going to school again and she can begin looking for work knowing he is happy.

Fadi still has rough days, like on the day he met Van Esveld, but at least when he can go to school, he enjoys it.

“Now, they even carry his backpack for him,” said his mum.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Srebrenica massacre survivor touches a bullet riddled wall at a warehouse near the elementary school in Petkovci, 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of Sarajevo, where Serb soldiers brought him for execution 20 years ago. June 27, 2015.

© 2015 AP Photo/Amel Emric

I was 8 years old when I learned how war can affect education. Along with thousands of other children caught in the tumult of the Bosnian war, from 1992 to 1995, I had no safe school to go to.

Instead of being safe places for children to learn, play, and make friends, schools during the war were often places of summary execution and unlawful detention of civilians, where women, men, and children were subjected to tortureinhuman treatment, and sexual violence. School buildings often came under deliberate fire, were burned downtaken by the warring forces, and converted into barracks or weapons storage, or used as shelters for displaced families. Women and girls were held as sex slaves in a high school in my hometown, Foča.

On the days we did go to school, it was only for a few hours, in the home of a teacher or in the basement of a building, or in classrooms around an interior courtyard – hoping there was less chance in the interior of being killed by a mortar or artillery fire.   

However, the harm didn’t stop with the end of the war. Many schools had been damaged, and others destroyed. It took years to rebuild them. And to rebuild our lives.  

On May 10, Bosnia and Herzegovina signed the international Safe Schools Declaration, to ensure that this never happens again. The government pledged to restore access to education when schools are bombed, burned, and destroyed during armed conflict. It promised to make it less likely that students, teachers, and schools will be attacked in the first place by investigating and prosecuting war crimes involving schools and minimizing the use of schools for military purposes so that they do not become targets for attack.

Bosnia has now joined 86 other countries in signing the Safe Schools Declaration. All member states of the former Yugoslavia have joined, except for Croatia.

Government representatives from around the world will gather in Mallorca, Spain on May 28 for an international conference to discuss how students, teachers, schools, and universities can be better protected during war. The conference is an opportunity for governments that haven’t yet joined, including Croatia, to sign the Safe Schools Declaration, and firmly stand together to prevent children from having to risk their lives to get books and an education.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

© 2017 Marco Tibasima for Human Rights Watch

(Harare) – Zimbabwe’s parliament should strengthen the Education Amendment Bill of 2019 to fully adhere to every child’s right to a quality primary and secondary education, Human Rights Watch said today in an open letter to Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, chairperson of the parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education.

The bill does not sufficiently address five key issues, Human Rights Watch said. It should explicitly guarantee free primary and secondary education to every child. It should include the right to inclusive education for those with disabilities and to students who are pregnant or are parents. The bill should guarantee protection from all forms of violence in schools and include a requirement to provide comprehensive sexuality education.

“Zimbabwe’s parliament’s proposals to protect every child’s right to education are very encouraging,” said Elin Martinez, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The bill provides a great opportunity to adopt stronger measures to protect some of the most vulnerable learners, including those from the poorest households, children with disabilities, and girls who become pregnant.”

Zimbabwe’s parliament introduced the draft Education Amendment Bill in February 2019. Members of parliament conducted multiple public consultations throughout April. The current bill guarantees state-funded basic education, and protection from corporal punishment and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. It protects children who cannot pay school fees, those with disabilities, and those who become pregnant from being excluded.

Human Rights Watch called for several changes to the current draft. These changes are needed to ensure that Zimbabwe complies with its international and regional human rights obligations, as well as its commitments under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Human Rights Watch said.

The bill’s current focus on “state funded basic education” does not include an explicit guarantee of the right to free education. The bill should state that primary education for all learners, including those with disabilities, is free and immediately realizable, and that free secondary education is available and accessible, Human Rights Watch said.

Although the bill includes learners with disabilities, it remains focused on providing “special needs education.” Parliament should amend the bill to protect the right to inclusive education, and be in compliance with Zimbabwe’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

© 2017 Marco Tibasima for Human Rights Watch

“Inclusive education” requires educating children and young people with disabilities in mainstream schools in their neighborhood with supplementary aids, support, and services, known as “reasonable accommodations,” if necessary. Experts say it is the best way for governments to guarantee the right to education to everyone without discrimination.  

The bill’s provision that “no child shall be discriminated against on the basis of pregnancy” is a positive measure, Human Rights Watch said. More than 24 percent of adolescent girls and young women ages 15 to 19 become mothers every year in Zimbabwe, according to the United Nations Population Fund. The bill should explicitly guarantee pregnant girls and young women and those who are parents the right to remain in school during pregnancy and to have the support they need to return to school, Human Rights Watch said.

By adding this protection, Zimbabwe would adhere to regional human rights obligations and join other Southern African Development Community member countries, many of which have a law or national policy in place that outlines schools’ obligations to safeguard the right to education of pregnant learners and mothers, and in some cases, fathers.

As currently drafted, the bill bans beating students or exposing them to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. This prompted some initial opposition from parent groups and community representatives. Human Rights Watch urged members of parliament to retain these strong provisions to reinforce the government’s obligation to ensure students’ safety in school. A UNICEF-sponsored study on violence against children in Zimbabwe shows that teachers are the primary authority figures responsible for physical violence against children.

The study also shows that learners face sexual violence in schools. Human Rights Watch recommended that parliament add to the bill explicit protections from other forms of school-related gender-based violence, including sexual abuse and exploitation.

“Many children are left out or drop out of education because of fees, discrimination, or violence in Zimbabwe’s schools,” Martinez said. “A stronger Education Act will clarify the government’s obligations so that all children across the country can realize their right to learn in safe and inclusive schools.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Open Letter                                                                                                      

May 9, 2019

RE: Human Rights Watch comments regarding Education Amendment Bill of 2019

Dear Ms. Misihairabwi-Mushonga,

Please accept our regards on behalf of Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch is an independent nongovernmental organization dedicated to defending and protecting human rights, working on more than 90 countries around the world. We are writing to provide comments during the period for open consultations with citizens and civil society on the Education Amendment Bill, first gazetted in February 2019.

Human Rights Watch would like to take this opportunity to support the adoption of an amended education bill that guarantees the equal realization of the right to education for all in Zimbabwe.

We are encouraged by the bill’s inclusion of legal guarantees on state-funded basic education, protection from corporal punishment and other forms of inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as specific protections for key groups of vulnerable children: those who are economically vulnerable, children with disabilities, and those who become pregnant while at school.

However, we believe that the bill should be strengthened in several areas, and are making concrete recommendations below in that regard. Based on our human rights research and evidence on barriers to the right to education in over 40 countries, including Zimbabwe, we have provided comments on specific parts of the bill, and included references to international law to indicate Zimbabwe’s international and regional human rights obligations.

We hope Zimbabwe’s parliament will adopt a robust amendment to the Education Act that guarantees everyone’s right to education, and brings Zimbabwe’s laws in line with its international and regional human rights obligations.

We thank you for taking these recommendations into account, and look forward to engaging with members of parliament in the next stages of this bill.

Please do not hesitate to contact Elin Martinez, martine@hrw.org or Dewa Mavhinga, mavhind@hrw.org for further information.

Sincerely,

Dewa Mavhinga                                                     

Southern Africa Director

Zama Neff

Children’s Rights Executive Director

 

Human Rights Watch’s comments on Education Amendment Bill, by section

Basic State-Funded Education (section 5)

We are encouraged that the Education Amendment Bill explicitly entitles every child to “basic state funded education,” including from early childhood to lower secondary education. The amended Act should provide the basis for Zimbabwe to guarantee the right to free education. We therefore remain concerned that the bill does not explicitly eliminate fees for primary and secondary schooling.

In 2018, Human Rights Watch published research on hazardous child labor in Zimbabwe’s tobacco sector, based on interviews conducted in five provinces of Zimbabwe.[1] We found that many families had to pay fees or levies for their children to go to public schools. Nearly everyone we interviewed—including parents, children, teachers, and worker advocates—said that school fees posed a barrier to children’s education, and many interviewees said the fees became prohibitively expensive for their families, particularly in secondary school. Though, at the time of writing, the government had stated that children should not be sent home from school for non-payment of fees, some interviewees said school administrators sent children home, or refused to provide end-of-year exam results, if school fees were unpaid. Interviewees also described how indirect educational costs for things like books and uniforms posed a challenge for many families. Some interviewees told Human Rights Watch that uniforms cost around $15, and books cost from $0.20 to $6 each, depending on the subject and grade level.

While the proposed creation of a Basic Education Fund could help some vulnerable students cover such fees, the government should articulate a plan for removing school fees to ensure the right to education for all learners. We therefore recommend that in accordance with international and regional law, the bill should reflect that primary education of all learners, including learners with disabilities, is free and immediately realizable. Further, Human Rights Watch believes the Zimbabwean government should take measures to ensure that secondary education is available and accessible to all free of charge. It should also encourage and intensify “fundamental education” for those persons who have not received or completed the whole period of primary (or basic) education.[2]

While we acknowledge current budgetary restrictions, we urge members of parliament, through budgetary and legislative processes, to ensure the government allocates sufficient public resources for education. At a minimum, with international support, Zimbabwe should meet the global benchmark of allocating at least 15 to 20 percent of the national budget to education; and preferably meet the 22 percent benchmark set by members of the South African Development Community (SADC).[3]

We support calls for the government to ensure adequate resources support the full spectrum of basic education, from early childhood to secondary education, and that budget allocations address disparities in funding to secondary education that limit transition to and enrollment in secondary education.[4] The government should ensure primary and secondary schools are adequately funded, so that they can cover gaps in school budgets that were previously covered through tuition fees, indirect costs, and family contributions.

We strongly believe that fully guaranteeing free primary and secondary education will ensure more young people will complete compulsory basic and secondary education. Across the African continent, countries like Ghana and Tanzania recently joined the group of African countries that guarantee free primary and secondary education, taking forward their national and international human rights obligations. Both countries have significantly increased enrollment in secondary education following the removal of school fees. We believe this is a crucial reform in order to ensure that all young people, regardless of their location or circumstances, have an equal right to primary and secondary education.

Pupils with Disabilities (section 68B)

We welcome the bill’s inclusion of specific rights for learners with disabilities.[5] However, we strongly encourage members of parliament to ensure the bill explicitly protects the right to inclusive education, and that this right is embedded in the bill, explained in Section 2 to replace “special needs education” and included as a standalone section in the main Act.

“Inclusive education” is the practice of educating children with disabilities in mainstream schools in their neighborhood with the provision of supplementary aids and services, known as reasonable accommodations, where necessary. Inclusive education is a fundamental right of all learners. It has been acknowledged by experts as the most appropriate means for governments to guarantee universality and nondiscrimination in the right to education. In addition, inclusive education is a prerequisite for full inclusion and participation of people with disabilities in the community, and for countering their isolation and segregation.

In particular, the bill should be guided by the legal obligations enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Zimbabwe ratified in 2013.[6] The CRPD in article 24(2) obligates states to ensure that:

a) Persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability, and that children with disabilities are not excluded from free and compulsory primary education, or from secondary education, on the basis of disability;

b) Persons with disabilities can access an inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live;

c) Reasonable accommodation of the individual’s requirements is provided;

d) Persons with disabilities receive the support required, within the general education system, to facilitate their effective education;

e) Effective individualized support measures are provided in environments that maximize academic and social development, consistent with the goal of full inclusion.

 

We wish to draw the committee’s attention to the explanatory note to section 68B of the amended bill, which stipulates “the rights of persons with disabilities to be provided with special facilities for their education.” We believe draft section 68B (1), which currently stipulates that “Every registered school shall provide infrastructure, subject to availability of resources, suitable for use by pupils with disabilities,” provides a more accurate reflection of Zimbabwe’s international obligation to ensure learners with disabilities are fully included and supported to learn in mainstream schools, rather than in specialized settings.

We support the draft bill’s articles in section 68B (2) and (3) stipulating obligations on the secretary of education to monitor how the rights of pupils with disabilities are taken into account during teaching and learning, and the requirement for every registered school to submit a plan highlighting how the school advances the rights of pupils with disabilities. We would encourage members of parliament to insert an additional clause that provides an obligation on schools to ensure that “effective individualized support measures are provided in environments that maximize academic and social development” of all learners, including those with specific learning needs and with disabilities.

We would also recommend including children with disabilities in clause in section 10 (2) to the effect that “Every child of school going age, including children with disabilities, shall be entitled to be enrolled at the primary or secondary school, as the case may be, nearest to the place where he or she is ordinarily resident.” 

In addition, the right to inclusive education includes an obligation to provide reasonable accommodation and guarantee accessibility in all schools to ensure children with disabilities can benefit from education on an equal basis. Provisions of the CRPD in article 24(3) prescribe the following appropriate measures:

a) Facilitating the learning of Braille, alternative script, augmentative and alternative modes, means and formats of communication and orientation and mobility skills, and facilitating peer support and mentoring;

b) Facilitating the learning of sign language and the promotion of the linguistic identity of the deaf community;

c) Ensuring that the education of persons, and in particular children, who are blind, deaf or deafblind, is delivered in the most appropriate languages and modes and means of communication for the individual, and in environments which maximize academic and social development.

Section 62(3) should therefore include a specific clause that outlines the government’s duty to provide reasonable accommodation, as well as accessible materials for learners who require them in order to learn on an equal basis.

Pregnant pupils (section 68D (1))

We commend Parliament for including a provision that guarantees that no child shall be discriminated against on the basis of pregnancy. We note that over 24 percent of adolescents ages 15-19 become mothers, according to the United Nations Population Fund, and most drop out of school.[7] We therefore believe the bill should include more provisions that protect the right to education of pregnant pupils and those who become parents while at school.

Human Rights Watch has conducted extensive research on African governments’ treatment of pregnant learners and learners who are parents. In 2018, we published Leave No Girl Behind in Africa, a report that details laws and policies that address pregnancy and parenthood in education, including good practices, in African countries. Our report outlines several key recommendations that governments need to adopt to ensure they have rights-compliant pregnancy management laws and policies in place. Please find a copy enclosed with this letter.

Our research has found that it is crucial for governments to protect pregnant and parent learners’ rights in national law and policy. In addition to legislation, governments should adopt a robust policy that aims to fully protect the right to education of adolescent mothers and fathers and prevent teenage pregnancies, in compliance with their human rights obligations.

We have also found that good laws and policies focus on providing the right to continue education, rather than restricting conditions for learners’ return to school. Laws and policies framed in this way also clarify schools’ positive obligations to adopt measures to support learners who become parents.

We therefore recommend that the bill includes a specific section on pregnant learners and parents of school-going age. Such provisions should expand the existing protection of not excluding a pupil on the basis of pregnancy, articulated in section 68D (1), and state learners’ positive right to remain in school and resume education once they decide they are able to resume classes. This clause could also specify that learners will not be barred from taking examinations.[8]

Although girls are overwhelmingly affected by exclusion and social and economic barriers when they become mothers, boys who become fathers while at school may also face barriers. We therefore encourage using language that reflects learners’ roles as parents.

By including a specific protection, Zimbabwe would adhere to regional obligations to protect the rights of pregnant and parent learners under the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and the African Youth Charter.[9]

Zimbabwe would also join other SADC member states, which generally have a law or national policy in place that outlines schools’ obligations to safeguard the right to education of pregnant learners and mothers, and in some cases, fathers who are also learners.[10] For example, Lesotho’s Children’s Protection and Welfare Act of 2011 includes a provision to the effect that: “No child shall be expelled or denied the right to education by any educational institute on account of pregnancy, initiation or other cultural rituals.”[11] 

Safety of Students in Schools (section 68A)

We commend parliament for including in the Education Amendment Bill a legal obligation to ensure children are not subject to any form of physical or psychological torture, or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment at school, including an explicit prohibition from beating students. This ensures the bill adheres to Zimbabwe’s international obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.[12]

However, we recommend that parliament adopt additional protections to ensure the Act covers other forms of school-related gender-based violence defined as “acts or threats of sexual, physical, or psychological violence occurring in and around schools, perpetrated as a result of gender norms and stereotypes and enforced by unequal power dynamics.”[13]

Putting a ban on corporal punishment into effect is essential to protect children from violence in schools. Many of the children and young adults whom Human Rights Watch interviewed for our 2018 report on hazardous child labor in tobacco farming said they were exposed to corporal punishment at school, despite the 2017 ruling by the High Court of Zimbabwe that corporal punishment for children was unconstitutional.[14] Children described being beaten by teachers for arriving late, missing class, or misbehaving. Children said they or other students were beaten with sticks on their hands, arms, legs, or backs, or slapped across the face. “We were beaten for being absent,” said one 15-year-old girl, saying her teacher made her put her head through the open back of a chair, and then beat her on the back with a stick.[15]

Based on our research in some countries in Southern and Eastern Africa, and numerous global studies and evidence on good practices, Human Rights Watch strongly believes governments should tackle and prevent all forms of school-related sexual and gender-based violence, which affects millions of students.[16] In particular, we note that millions of girls are often exposed to sexual violence in schools – which largely goes unreported due to stigmas, taboos and lack of confidential reporting mechanisms.[17] A Unicef-sponsored study on violence against children in Zimbabwe showed that among authority figures, teachers were the primary perpetrators of physical violence against girls and boys. Data gathered shows that both groups were exposed to sexual violence in schools.[18]

We therefore encourage members of parliament to insert an overall commitment to preventing all forms of violence in schools in the preamble, as well as an article that expands provisions in section 68A to clearly state the government’s, and all schools’, duty to protect learners from all forms of school-related gender-based violence. The Act could also mandate a duty for government to adopt a policy against all forms of school-related gender-based violence, including corporal punishment, sexual violence, exploitation and psychological violence; and secure a process to monitor that schools abide by this policy.[19]

Sexual and Reproductive Health in Schools (section 64)

We support the draft bill’s inclusion of section 64(k) to the effect that sexual and reproductive health personnel will be appointed to schools.

Research in various countries across Africa, including Zimbabwe, shows that many governments lack a concerted approach, whether in law, policy or implementation, to ensure adolescent children and young adults have access to accurate and scientific information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, including through comprehensive sexuality education in schools.[20]

We would highly encourage members of parliament to use this opportunity to discuss the inclusion of comprehensive sexuality education in the curriculum, in line with international guidance issued by UNESCO and other UN agencies,[21] and in compliance with the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and the African Youth Charter, and other regional commitments.[22]

 

[1] Human Rights Watch, “A Bitter Harvest”: Child Labor and Human Rights Abuses in Tobacco Farms in Zimbabwe, April 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/04/05/bitter-harvest/child-labor-and-human-rights-abuses-tobacco-farms-zimbabwe.

[2] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/cescr.aspx, art. 13 (2)(a) - (d); UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx, art. 28 (1)(a) -e); African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990), http://www.achpr.org/instruments/child/#a11, art. 11 (3).

[3] UNESCO et al., Education 2030 – Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action for the implementation of Sustainable Development 4;

http://uis.unesco.org/sites/default/files/documents/education-2030-incheon-framework-for-action-implementation-of-sdg4-2016-en_2.pdf, p. 9; UNICEF Zimbabwe, “Primary and Secondary Education 2018 Budget Brief,” April 2018, https://www.unicef.org/esaro/UNICEF-Zimbabwe-2018-Education-Budget-Brief.pdf.

[4] UNICEF Zimbabwe, “Primary and Secondary Education 2018 Budget Brief,” April 2018, https://www.unicef.org/esaro/UNICEF-Zimbabwe-2018-Education-Budget-Brief.pdf.

[5] For more information on Human Rights Watch research on government’s obligations on the right to inclusive education, see Human Rights Watch, “Complicit in Exclusion”: South Africa’s Failure to Guarantee an Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities, August 2015,

https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/08/18/complicit-exclusion/south-africas-failure-guarantee-inclusive-education-children; Nepal: Barriers to Inclusive Education, Segregation, Lack of Accessibility for Children with Disabilities, September 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/09/13/nepal-barriers-inclusive-education; “I Would Like to Go to School”: Barriers to Education for Children with Disabilities in Lebanon, March 2018,

https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/03/22/i-would-go-school/barriers-education-children-disabilities-lebanon.

[7] UN Population Fund and Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, “Facing the Challenge of Adolescent Pregnancy in Zimbabwe,” 2016, 

https://zimbabwe.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/UNFPA%20FACING%20CHALLENGE%20OF%20ADOLESCENT%20PREGNANCY%20STORYLINE%20for%20Web.pdf.

[8] For more examples on laws that articulate this right, see Human Rights Watch, Leave No Girl Behind in Africa: Discrimination in Education against Pregnant Girls an Adolescent Mothers, June 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/06/14/leave-no-girl-behind-africa/discrimination-education-against-pregnant-girls-and, pp. 30 –41.

[9] African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990), art. 11 (6); African Youth Charter (2006), https://au.int/sites/default/files/treaties/7789-treaty-0033_-_african_youth_charter_e.pdf, art. 13 (4) (h).

[10] This group includes Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zambia.

[11] Kingdom of Lesotho, “Children’s Protection and Welfare Act, Act. No. 7 of 2011, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/106492/130667/F-2038271001/LSO106492.pdf, art. 11(4).

[12] UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), art. 19 (1), and art. 34 (1); African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990), art. 11 (5), and art. 16 (1).

[13] UN Girls Education Initiative, A Whole School Approach to Prevent School-Related Gender-Based Violence: Minimum Standards and Monitoring Framework,

http://www.ungei.org/srgbv/files/Whole-School-Approach-to-Prevent-SRGBV-Minimum-Standards-Framework-UNGEI.pdf.

[14] Dewa Mavhinga (Human Rights Watch), Zimbabwe: Mnangagwa Government Should Address Barriers to Education, NewsDay, December 21, 2017,

https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/12/21/zimbabwe-mnangagwa-government-should-address-barriers-education.

[15] Human Rights Watch, “A Bitter Harvest:” Child Labor and Human Rights Abuses in Tobacco Farms in Zimbabwe.

[16] See, for example, Human Rights Watch, The Education Deficit – Failures to Protect and Fulfill the Right to Education in Global Development Agendas, June 2016,

https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/06/09/education-deficit/failures-protect-and-fulfill-right-education-through-global#a0d549, “Violence in Schools,” pp. 36-48; Plan International and University of Toronto, “A girl’s right to learn without fear: Working to end gender-based violence at school,”

https://plan-international.org/publications/girls-right-learn-without-fear; Unicef, “Half of world’s teens experience peer violence in and around school,” September 5, 2018,

https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/half-worlds-teens-experience-peer-violence-and-around-school-unicef.

[17] Unicef, An Everyday Lesson – End Violence in Schools, September 2018, https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/An_Everyday_Lesson-ENDviolence_in_Schools.pdf.

[18] Unicef, ZimStat and the University of Edinburgh, “Understanding Determinants of Violence in Childhood: A secondary analysis of the national baseline survey of the life experiences of adolescents in Zimbabwe,” 2016, https://www.unicef.org/zimbabwe/media/321/file.

[19] UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), art. 19 (2); African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990), art. 11 (5), and art. 16 (2); Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, art. 12 (1)(c).

[20] United Nations Population Fund, “Harmonizing the Legal Environment for Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights – A review of 23 Countries in East and Southern Africa,” September 2017, http://esaro.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/2017-08-Laws%20and%20Policies-Digital_0.pdf; see Human Rights Watch, Leave No Girl Behind in Africa, pp. 23 – 25; Human Rights Watch, “I Had a Dream to Finish School” – Barriers to Secondary Education in Tanzania, February 2017,

https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/02/14/i-had-dream-finish-school/barriers-secondary-education-tanzania.

[21] UNESCO, United Nations Population Fund et al, “International technical guidance on sexuality education – An evidence informed approach,” 2018, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0026/002607/260770e.pdf; see “Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA),” December 7, 2013, https://hivhealthclearinghouse.unesco.org/sites/default/files/resources/ESACommitmentFINALAffirmedon7thDecember.pdf.

[22] Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, art. 14(1); African Youth Charter (2006), art. 13 (3) (f), and art. 16 (2)(b) –(e).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut) – A Houthi-controlled warehouse that stored volatile material near homes and schools caught fire and detonated in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, on April 7, 2019, causing the deaths of at least 15 children, Human Rights Watch and Mwatana for Human Rights said today. The massive blast injured more than 100 children and adults in the residential Sawan neighborhood. The groups could not determine the initial cause of the fire at the warehouse. Witnesses did not see or hear aircraft, but the Saudi Arabia-owned al-Arabiya published and broadcast – then deleted – a report that the Saudi-led coalition had carried out an airstrike in the area that day.

Shoes from panicked students left behind at al-Ra'ee school following an explosion in a Houthi-controlled warehouse in Sanaa on April 7, 2019 that killed and wounded children and other civilians. © 2019 Private

After the midday explosion, scores of Houthi security forces arrived at the site, fired warning shots, and beat and detained several people who tried to photograph the warehouse, witnesses said. For several days, Houthi forces removed large quantities of undisclosed materials from the site on flatbed trucks, and prevented human rights researchers from accessing the area until April 11.

“The Houthi authorities need to provide credible information and stop storing large concentrations of volatile materials in densely populated areas,” said Radhya al-Mutawakel, the chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights. “The Houthis played a role in the tragedy and should hold responsible officials to account and provide compensation to victims.”

Mwatana and Human Rights Watch determined, based on in-person interviews with witnesses, videos, and satellite imagery, that the contents of the warehouse had caught fire and exploded. The groups were unable to identify the warehouse contents, but available information shows that they were flammable and explosive, posing a foreseeable danger to civilians living and going to school in the area.

Witnesses to the explosion said that they did not see the initial cause of the fire at the warehouse, but none saw or heard aircraft or incoming munitions before the fire began, or at the time of the large explosion several minutes later. Four videos of the blast that bystanders recorded and uploaded to the internet within hours also do not indicate the cause of the fire, but show nothing to suggest an airstrike or incoming munition. Researchers did not observe craters that might have indicated an aerial bomb when they were first able to access the site days after the explosion. No craters are visible in photographs of the area that Xinhua news agency published on April 9.

The day of the explosion, al-Arabiya tweeted that the Saudi-led coalition – which has been fighting the Houthis since 2015 – had carried out airstrikes that day including on a “military police camp in the Sawan neighborhood” in eastern Sanaa, and repeated the statement at 12:59 p.m. in an online news story. In a television news broadcast, al-Arabiya reported that “a strike hit the military police camp in the east of Sana’a …  in addition to one of the depots belonging to the Houthis in al-Arbaeen Roundabout,” the name of an intersection about 250 meters south of the warehouse that exploded.

Researchers spoke to residents near two military police camps in eastern Sanaa, one located 3 kilometers southwest and the other 2 kilometers south of the warehouse, and to residents near the other roundabout in Sanaa called al-Arbaeen, about 10 kilometers south of the warehouse, but residents said they were unaware of any airstrikes on April 7.

Al-Arabiya later deleted the tweet and removed the television news broadcast from its website. On the evening of April 7, it reported that the coalition spokesperson, Col. Turki al-Malki, stated that the coalition had not targeted residential areas in Sanaa. The Houthis and some news reports attributed the deadly explosion to a coalition airstrike.

The warehouse blast destroyed a three-family home, badly damaged another home, and blew doors off their hinges and shattered windows at four nearby schools. The United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, reported that “it was almost lunchtime and students were in class,” and dozens were killed and wounded.

The destroyed administration office at a school following an explosion in a Houthi-controlled warehouse in Sanaa on April 7, 2019 that killed and wounded children and other civilians.

© 2019 Private

Of the 15 children killed, Mwatana identified the names and ages of 10 girls and a boy who died at two schools, and 17 girls and 12 boys who were wounded, most of them 11 or 12 years old. At least 45 children were wounded, 5 critically, as well as at least 58 adults, based on interviews with people present at the two schools and at three private hospitals that received the dead and wounded. The actual death toll may be higher. Some blast victims who were in critical condition were evacuated to public hospitals run by Houthi authorities, where hospital officials did not agree to speak to human rights groups.

Students and teachers at al-Ra’ee public school, with roughly 2,000 students, located about 250 meters west of the explosion, identified nine schoolgirls there who died. The explosion caused many of the girls to run in panic along the balconies outside their classrooms to the stairwell, where some fell and were trampled, witnesses said. When the stairwell became blocked, some girls still on the top floor of the three-story building died when they jumped or fell from the building. Staff at one hospital said that three girls whose bodies were received at the hospital had been trampled to death, and that most wounded children admitted to the hospital had been cut by broken glass.

Some children at al-Ra’ee school “died in their classrooms,” Save the Children said, apparently due to wounds caused by the blast. Another schoolgirl died from unknown causes “due to lack of equipment and supplies in the hospital.” A Save the Children employee rescued a wounded 14-year-old girl who told him, “I will never go to school again.”

Human Rights Watch and Mwatana were unable to conclusively determine what material was stored in the Sawan facility. The researchers observed widespread blast damage, and the fuze of a hand grenade found near the warehouse. If Houthi forces stored material such as munitions or fuel for military purposes at the site, they would be in violation of the laws-of-war obligations to take all feasible precautions to avoid placing military targets within or near densely populated areas, and to protect civilians from the danger resulting from military operations.

“The Houthis’ decision to store volatile material near homes and schools despite the foreseeable risk to civilians led to the death and injury of dozens of schoolchildren and adults,” said Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Houthis should stop covering up what happened in Sawan and start doing more to protect civilians under their control.”

Details about the Explosion

The following account is based primarily on interviews conducted in Sanaa with nine witnesses to the explosion at the warehouse, staff at three hospitals, satellite imagery, and four verified videos posted on the internet.

An overview satellite image of the damage area near two schools following a warehouse explosion on April 7, 2019, in Sanaa, Yemen. © 2019 Digital Globe – Source EUSI

Shortly after 11:20 a.m. on April 7, dozens of people had gathered to observe a fire that had started at the warehouse. A local resident said that the front section of the warehouse was used as a carpentry workshop, but that “no one knew anything about” a large section at the back.

Witnesses described seeing smoke and hearing several small explosions. At about 11:30 a.m., a huge, destructive blast occurred, followed by smaller explosions. A man who saw it said: “The first explosion happened, then there were a few small explosions and I saw smoke. Then [a few minutes later] the second explosion happened. It was so huge, I felt as if I was paralyzed.”

Witnesses told Mwatana researchers that the blast killed at least one child who had been standing near the warehouse and destroyed the nearby homes of an extended family. The Associated Press reported that the force of the blast knocked one man to the ground, unconscious. When the man regained consciousness, he said he saw a woman who had been “cut into pieces” by glass shards. The force of the blast blew a girl from the arms of her father into the air. The father later found the girl under plastic bags and rubble, alive.

The blast ripped a school door off its frame, killing a 17-year-old student at al-Ahqaf private school, 45 meters east of the warehouse. Flying debris wounded more than 20 other schoolchildren as well as teachers, school staff said. Another staff member said that “the windows shattered and some doors collapsed,” and her students “were very scared, holding me and crying.” The explosion severely damaged the computer room, she said. School staff said they had to break a small window in the guard’s house to evacuate the students, because the main gate was next to the warehouse.

Human Rights Watch and Mwatana matched four videos, based on identified landmarks and with satellite imagery, which show a fire with billowing grey smoke at the warehouse. The videos did not record what caused the fire. The videos show the fire apparently reaching a fuel source and rapidly transitioning into a large detonation with a high-velocity blast wave. About 10 people in the vicinity of the large explosion most likely became casualties.

Soon after the explosion, scores of armed Houthis, most in civilian clothes and two in police uniforms, arrived, created a perimeter around the warehouse, and blocked all entry, witnesses said. Some fired weapons in the direction of, and badly beat, people who tried to take pictures. They detained several people who were near the site, releasing them later that day, witnesses said.

On April 8, the day after the explosion, a researcher observed two Houthi military vehicles with more than 10 uniformed policemen who prevented all access to the site. The Houthis prevented local human rights researchers from visiting the area until April 11.

Residents said that in the days following the explosion, the Houthis appeared to be removing material from the warehouse. Medium-sized flatbed trucks “kept going in and out after the explosion to take things out of the warehouse, but we couldn’t see what was in them,” said a resident. “These [trucks] were the only things allowed in and out.”

Reports by coalition-aligned and Yemeni government news agencies also said the coalition carried out airstrikes on April 7 on a Houthi military camp in Jarban in Sanhan district outside the city, more than 20 kilometers south of where the warehouse explosion took place.

During the current conflict, one in five schools in Yemen has been closed, damaged by attacks, or used for military purposes, according to UNICEF.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

“When the Zika epidemic first happened there was an explosion in the media. Now, these children have been forgotten.”

© Private
This dispatch is part of a series focussing on children with zika syndrome and their families. To read more, please visit the blog: Zika: Brazil's Forgotten Families.
 
Three-year-old Gaby has long curly hair, two brothers, and a wheelchair that helps her get around her home in Brazil.
 
I first met Carol, Gaby’s mother, when her daughter was about 8 months old. My colleagues and I were researching the impacts of the Zika outbreakin Brazil. Gaby was the first baby born with Zika-related disabilities in her small town in Paraíba state. 
 
Carol held Gaby in her arms as she recounted the story of her pregnancy and Gaby’s first months of life.
 
 
When Carol came down with a fever, headache, and rash in mid-2015, she didn’t know she was pregnant. She had been taking birth control pills since her 1-year-old son was born. Carol had heard about Zika – a mosquito-borne virus that was spreading in northeastern Brazil – but the effects on fetal development were unknown.
 
Gaby was born, in January 2016, with microcephaly – a condition in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected and the brain is not fully developed.
 
“When the Zika epidemic first happened there was an explosion in the media,” Carol said. “Now, these children have been forgotten.”

When Gaby was a baby, Carol was a student but had to balance studying with traveling twice a week from her town to a larger city, an hour each way, to take her daughter to physical therapy. Despite the difficulties, Gaby’s parents adored her and were determined to give her the best care they could. They even started a blog, #SomosTodosMariaGabriela (“We are all Gaby”).

Three-year-old Gaby has long curly hair, two brothers, and a wheelchair that helps her get around her home in Brazil.

© Private

Since then some things have changed – Gaby’s brother João Miguel was born last year, and her older brother João Gabriel is 5 and going to school. Carol got a scholarship to study to be a nursing technician, but can only attend school on Saturdays when her husband Joselito stays at home with the kids.

Gaby too has changed, her needs becoming more complex as she gets older. The family recently learned that she needs a special thickening agent added to her food to keep her from choking and nutritional supplements. She has a dislocated hip, which will eventually require surgery, and she needs braces to stabilize her limbs. All this costs far more than the 954 reais (about US$ 240) a month stipend they receive for Gaby’s needs that the whole family is living off.

At least one thing has stayed the same. Gaby is utterly and unconditionally adored.

Carol and Joselito spend many of their days petitioning authorities to get the services Gaby needs. 

“We are fighting for Gaby’s rights,” Carol said. But the family wants to do much more than that – they want to fight for the rights of all children with Zika syndrome.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
(Baghdad) – The Iraqi government should reject a plan that would unlawfully detain families with perceived Islamic State (also known as ISIS) affiliation, Human Rights Watch said today. In early 2019, Iraq’s Implementation and Follow Up National Reconciliation Committee presented to Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi a proposal calling for the internment of up to 280,000 people, primarily women and their children. 

Graffiti that reads "Daesh (ISIS)," marks the home of relatives of an ISIS member in a west Mosul neighborhood, Iraq. 

© 2018 Private
 
“The Iraqi government proposal to confine alleged families of ISIS members not only violates international law but is also contrary to the government’s stated aim of reconciling populations post-ISIS,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Detaining families not accused of any crimes is a form of collective punishment that will fuel resentment and put the lives of thousands of people on endless hold.”
 
In a meeting on April 7, the committee’s president, Dr. Mohammed Salman al-Saadi, shared an outline of the plan with Human Rights Watch. He said that it would affect all spouses, children, siblings, and parents of alleged ISIS members, whether the member is dead, disappeared, or in detention. Human Rights Watch raised its concerns with the proposal in letters to Abdul-Mahdi and President Barham Salih in late April.
 
Interior Ministry officials have told Human Rights Watch that the plan would affect an estimated 250,000 people. Humanitarian agencies believe that there are another 31,000 Iraqis in refugee and displacement camps in northeast Syria that the Iraqi government is returning home. Government officials have said they suspect that many of these returning families might be ISIS-affiliated.
 
Once numbers are ascertained, the Migration and Displacement Ministry is to build or repurpose residential compounds outside of cities to house the families, al-Saadi said. Families would be provided with either fixed housing or shipping container homes, but not tents. He said that people living there would only be allowed to leave in limited circumstances, including to go to the hospital or to a courthouse.
 
Under the proposal, the Sunni Endowment, a government religion body, would provide for compulsory deradicalization programming. The Labor and Social Affairs Ministry would give adults vocational training, but with no employment opportunities inside the compound. The Education Ministry would provide schools, and the Health Ministry would set up clinics inside. Al-Saadi said he foresaw a role for local groups to support programming for the families.
 
Iraqi security forces would guard the compounds but would not be allowed to enter, al-Saadi said, addressing a consistent problem in Iraq’s camps for the displaced. Inside the compound, the Interior Ministry’s community policing department would provide law enforcement, primarily through its female staff. However, the head of the community policing department in Baghdad, Khalid Lamuhana, told Human Rights Watch that his unit currently has just 752 staff members across the whole country, including only about 20 women.
 
The Implementation and Follow Up National Reconciliation Committee would negotiate returns of interned families to their areas of origin. Only after an agreement is secured with local communities and the interned families have completed deradicalization would the authorities allow them to return home. Al-Saadi did not specify a time frame. He said the families would only receive permanent documentation once they are approved to leave the compound.
 
The government’s proposal, if implemented, would violate Iraq’s obligations under international law, Human Rights Watch said. In the context of a non-international armed conflict, such as in Iraq, international human rights law continues to apply. International human rights law prohibits arbitrary detention and requires promptly taking people in custody before a judge and charging them with a criminal offense or releasing them. Any deprivation of liberty must be according to law that is “accessible, understandable, non-retroactive and applied in a consistent and predictable way,” and allows individuals being detained to have their detention judicially reviewed. Any detention that lacks such legal basis is both unlawful and arbitrary.
 
International human rights law and humanitarian law allow punishment for people found responsible for crimes only after a fair trial to determine individual guilt. Imposing collective punishment on families, villages, or communities violates the laws of war and amounts to a war crime. Similarly, ordering the forced displacement of civilians for reasons connected with the conflict, apart from imperative military reasons or for their protection, is also a war crime. Under international human rights law, children may be detained only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.
 
The plan could also violate Iraqi law, Human Rights Watch said. Iraq’s Constitution enshrines the right of every Iraqi to free movement, travel, and residence inside and outside of Iraq. Human Rights Watch knows of no laws passed that would allow the government to rescind those rights and to confine people not accused of committing a crime. Two senior judges in Baghdad told Human Rights Watch that the proposal could easily be challenged in court.
 
“The Iraqi government is seeking to provide safety for all Iraqi citizens,” Fakih said. “But the government needs to find a way to do that without unjustly burdening women and children who have committed no crimes.”
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Mehdi Sohrabifar (blue background) and Amin Sedaghat (white background) were executed on April 25, 2019. 

 

© Private

(Beirut) - The execution of two children in southern Iran is an abhorrent violation of Iran’s human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said today. On April 25, 2019, authorities in Adel Abad prison in Shiraz, Fars province executed two 17-year-old cousins, Mehdi Sohrabifar and Amin Sedaghat.

Authorities arrested Sohrabifar and Sedaghat in May or June 2017, when both were 15, on several accusations including rape, a source who preferred to remain anonymous told Human Rights Watch. Both children were detained in a juvenile detention center until authorities transferred them to Adel Abad prison a day before they were executed.

“There is no justification for executing children,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Iranian officials transported Mehdi Sohrabifar and Amin Sedaghat straight from a juvenile facility to the gallows.”

International law strictly prohibits the use of capital punishment in all cases in which the accused was under 18 at the time of the crime.

In recent years, Iranian judicial authorities often waited until a child sentenced to death had turned 18 before executing them, claiming that they were no longer a child. Documents Human Rights Watch reviewed indicated that Sohrabifar was diagnosed with an intellectual disability and had been enrolled in a special school for children with disabilities.

The source who spoke to Human Rights Watch said that Iran’s Supreme Court had reversed the children’s death sentences once, but the court in Shiraz reinstated them. Another source said that the court that reinstated the death penalty was branch 1 of Fars province criminal court, and that the Supreme Court had upheld that verdict. A forensic doctor had determined that Sohrabifar and Sedaghat had reached the developmental maturity to understand the nature of the crimes, the source said.

The authorities had not informed the families or lawyers about the verdict before the executions took place, and only after the families visited the children in Adel Abad prison told them that this was their last visit.

At least one other alleged child offender is on death row in Adel Abad Prison in Shiraz. Mohammad Reza Haddadi was initially sentenced to death for an alleged murder at age 15 and has been on death row since 2003.

Iran is one of only five countries known to have executed people since 2013 who were children at the time of their offense. The others are Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, and Yemen. Hamas authorities in Gaza have also executed child offenders. Iran is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which bans executing offenders who were children at the time of their offense.

Iran’s penal code, as amended in 2013, prohibits executing child offenders for certain categories of crimes, including drug-related offenses. For other serious crimes, article 91 of the amended penal code allows judges to use their discretion and not issue a death sentence against a child who was not able to comprehend the nature and consequences of the crime at the time. The amended law also allows the courts to rely on “the opinion of a forensic doctor or other means it deems appropriate” to establish whether a defendant understood the consequences of their actions.

However, Iranian courts have continued to sentence children to death after these amendments became law. From 2014 to the end of 2017, Iran executed at least 25 people for crimes committed when they were children, according to Amnesty International and Iran Human Rights. In 2018 alone, Iran executed seven people for crimes they allegedly committed as children. In the case of Abolfazl Chezani Sherahi who was executed on June 27, 2018, a forensic doctor had claimed that he had sufficient “developmental maturity” to understand his crime and therefore be executed for it.

A growing body of neuroscientific research states that children, including those who are 16 or 17, are different than adults and in important respects less culpable than adults who commit the same crimes, and more amenable to rehabilitation, a key objective in juvenile justice systems.

Since 2012, Human Rights Watch has urged the Iranian government to amend its penal code to impose an absolute prohibition on the death penalty for child offenders, as required by international law. Human Rights Watch has also said that Iran’s judiciary should impose an immediate moratorium on executions due to the serious concerns regarding due process violations leading to the implementation of the death penalty, and move toward abolishing capital punishment. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because it is an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment.

“Until Iran bans the death penalty, Iranian judges should use the legal authority they already have and stop sending children to be killed by the state,” Page said. “The Iranian criminal justice system flouted universal norms and demonstrated needless cruelty, not justice, by its appalling executions of Sohrabifar and Sedaghat.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am