Thirteen-year-old Ali Rajab is on his feet an average of 12 hours a day, cleaning, filling perfume bottles and helping sell mobile phones at the shop in Beirut where he works.
Still, he prefers it to his previous, more physically demanding jobs, which included even longer hours pushing a vegetable and fruit cart and making supermarket home deliveries.
Rajab has been working since he arrived in Lebanon two years ago after fleeing war in his Syrian hometown of Aleppo with his parents and six siblings.
More than 1.1 million Syrians have sought refuge here since the start of the 2011 uprising, more than half of them children. The U.N.’s children agency, UNICEF, says there are 2.8 million children out of school in the region, and child refugees are particularly at risk of exploitation and abuse, with large numbers having no choice but to go to work.
They sell flowers and other trinkets on the street, they work as shoe shiners and in construction and other jobs.
“I like my new work because it is easy and does not require much physical effort, and I am sheltered from the summer heat and winter cold,” said Rajab, who earns about $8 a day – or $250 a month.
Some, like 15-year-old Mohannad al-Ashram, are forced to become breadwinners for their families. His father died two years ago in Syria from an illness, and since arriving in Lebanon two and a half years ago, he has worked at a small supermarket to pay the rent for the tiny apartment where he and his mother and three sisters live.
“Sometimes I get very tired but I soldier on,” he said. “All I think about is my work now.”
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