BEIRUT: Two babies have been found dumped in Lebanon in less than a week.
On Aug. 27, cleaners found a baby girl inside a garbage bag that was in a waste container under the Burj Hammoud Bridge, a popular mixed area with an Armenian majority where many underprivileged families live.
Then, on Sept. 1, a worker at Al-Bahr Mosque in the southern city of Sidon found a baby boy on the stairs of the building’s entrance. The baby was just a few months old and in poor health.
This terrifying social phenomenon is new to Lebanese society.
Lebanon experienced something similar over three decades ago during the civil war, and such incidents occurred intermittently after the conflict ended.
Security and judicial authorities usually follow up on these cases, often placing the abandoned babies in social welfare institutions.
In July a UNICEF report on Lebanon warned that over 30 percent of children were “going to bed hungry” and had skipped meals in the past month.
“Seventy-seven percent of households do not have enough food or enough money to buy food. Sixty percent of households have to buy food on credit or borrow money. Thirty percent of children are not receiving the primary health care they need,” it said.
The national currency has lost about 99 percent of its value in less than two years and around 55 percent of the population now lives below the poverty line as a result of an economic crisis.
Inflation is expected to increase, with the anticipation of a greater decline in the value of the Lebanese pound if the country’s political turmoil persists.
The international community requires the formation of a government that implements economic and financial reforms as a precondition for aid.
Khaled Qabbani, a former minister of justice and education and the director general of Social Welfare Institutions and the Islamic Orphanage in Lebanon, said he expected “the worst amid this economic, financial, political and moral collapse.”
“When people starve and institutions collapse and Lebanon loses the confidence of the international community while the political class is distracted by quotas and personal gains, we will see more children in the streets and more theft and looting,” he told Arab News. “Chaos is bound to prevail. Since the ruling authority and the security forces lost their stature, no one can prevent riots. We are currently in the midst of this stage and the phenomenon of leaving babies in the garbage and on the doors of mosques indicates this complete collapse.
“A high percentage of parents want to enroll their children in the orphanage because they are unable to provide them with care and protection. They know that we protect our children and provide them with education, a place to sleep, food and hospitalization. They would rather be separated from their children and place them in our care than keep them at home without food or education. The phenomenon of parents leaving their children is a product of poverty and a lack of moral values.
“Parents who enroll their children in our institutions have to come and take their children home weekly in order to maintain a family connection. However, parents have recently stopped coming to the orphanage due to the high cost of transportation, especially if they live in areas far from Beirut.”
The economic crisis has hit all institutions that provide social care within their sects. “Social welfare institutions had never experienced such conditions and risks, even in the most difficult stages of Lebanon’s history,” he added. “The country has reached the stage of starvation, people did not starve during the war.
“Our expenses increased and our sources of income decreased. The donors were affected by the crisis as well, so the size of donations dropped. The middle class, which is considered the backbone of society and which sympathizes greatly with its social welfare institutions, was also dramatically affected by the crisis. Remarkably, the people’s sympathy for us did not cease. On the contrary, the sense of responsibility rose and the donations never stopped. This means that society has not lost its social and patriotic sense.”
Qabbani said that many social welfare institutions in Lebanon faced the same predicament. Some had reduced their services, dismissed employees, or cut their salaries.
“All the Lebanese share the same plight and poverty has spread to all sects.”