More than half of girls living as refugees in Beirut report that girls face sexual violence and sexual harassment with alarming and disturbing regularity, new research reveals.
Based on a survey and interviews with 400 girls aged 10 to 19, the research – Adolescent Girls in Crisis: Voices from Beirut – describes in shocking detail the multiple threats and sources of abuse girls face growing up in Lebanon’s capital city.
Close to 70% of those surveyed reported feeling unsafe if they travel around the city alone during the day, while nearly 90% revealed that they fear for their safety at night.
Fears of kidnap and rape
Numerous girls spoke of being harassed or chased by men and boys, while others expressed concern about being kidnapped or raped.
Using girls’ own words, the report provides vivid testimonies of the deep impact these threats are having on their daily lives.
“We’re too afraid [to go out alone]. There are always drunk men who harass us and even the ones who aren’t drunk harass us,” an 18-year-old Syrian girl from Bourj Al Barajneh told researchers.
A 10-year-old Lebanese girl in Bourj Hammoud said: “There are kidnapping of kids and girls, so I don’t like to leave our house.”
Prevalence of child marriage
Many also reported that their friends were being forced into marriage – a practice that is becoming more and more common, according to Plan International.
“Some girls, their parents oblige them to leave school to get married. My friends all got married and now they have kids,” a 13-year-old Syrian girl in Bourj Al Barajneh said.
The report launches today (18 June) ahead of World Refugee Day on 20 June and Plan International is calling on the international community to not only listen to what girls have to say, but also to take action to support them.
Plan International’s Regional Programme Director in the Middle East, Colin Lee, said.
“Adolescent girls rarely get their voices heard, and during humanitarian crises this neglect only becomes exacerbated.
No one should have to live in fear the way that girls in Beirut are currently doing.
“With this research, we have attempted to address this problem by asking girls themselves what life is like for them – and what they have told us is cause for deep concern. Child marriage is on the rise because parents are so fearful for their daughters’ safety. Few girls are able to go to school for the same reason, and far too many reported desperate feelings of isolation because of the restrictions placed on their freedom of movement by their parents.
“We have to change this. No one should have to live in fear the way that girls in Beirut are currently doing. There are many ways that we could make the city safer for girls, and now that we know the true extent of the abuse and suffering they are experiencing we must take action to ensure that they no longer fall through the cracks.”
Girls remain optimistic
Despite the negative impact their situation is having on their lives, the report also demonstrates that many girls remain optimistic and ambitious about the future.
“The importance girls placed on getting an education is obvious,” Colin Lee said. “Many girls expressed a desire to become a lawyer, a doctor, or an engineer. But what was even more striking was the fact that they didn’t just believe that education would benefit them directly. They also saw it as a way to support and enhance the resilience of their community and broader society as a whole.
“It is clear from these findings that while teenage girls have unique vulnerabilities, they also have huge potential. As humanitarian actors, it is not only our duty to provide programmes that protect adolescent girls, but also to make it possible for them to have the same opportunities as girls in other parts of the world whose lives have not been disrupted by war.
“We must support girls to achieve their dreams, we must make it possible for them to get an education, and we must make it possible for them to live freely without the current restrictions that are having such a devastating impact on their lives.”
Plan International is calling for governments, the United Nations and civil society actors in Lebanon, to address the causes of girls’ insecurity, and has made a number of recommendations, including to:
- Recognise adolescent girls’ unique needs and ensure their voices are included in the decision-making, design and implementation of humanitarian programmes.
- Tackle the root causes of gender inequality at family, community and legislative levels.
- Remove barriers that prevent girls in refugee communities from attending school.
- Ensure girls have access to confidential healthcare, information about sexual and reproductive health and rights, and safe spaces where they can meet, socialise and support their peers.