(by Mr Abbas Ahmad Assi*)
Mr. Guy Ryder, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I, Abbas Assi, am honoured to stand before you today, as a representative of working children and an advocate of their cause.
My story started a long time ago, and I did not expect that I would have the opportunity – or the courage - to tell it to anyone, but here I am today, having first been able to express myself through the " Working Children's Podium” in Lebanon.
Until I was ten years old, I went to school, played with my friends and had fun. Then my childhood became a hammer and a chisel, regularly banging my dreams, and an angry employer who expected everyone to serve him around the clock.
The bells of my story rang after Lebanon's War in 2006, which killed my uncle, my grandfather and then my grandmother. All these sad memories affected my father's health and he could no longer work for long hours to support the family.
So I started helping him, doing electrical work and extending cables after school, during weekends and holidays. Then his health got worse, and it became my responsibility to provide for the family. I began to work in a workshop with a man I knew nothing about.
I could no longer go to school regularly and I couldn’t keep up with my studies. Eventually, my employer demanded that I leave school and work full-time for him. I had many voices inside me, however, the voice of hope, which I almost lost, rose and rose high and this I must say was also thanks to the support of my great mother who continued to believe in my education.
In these difficult times, Mr. Ryder, the organization that you visited in Beqaa belonging to BEYOND Association and supported by the ILO and the Ministry of Labour, reached out to me. I was 15 then, and with their support, my power of choice and decision making was strengthened and I managed to convince my employer that I needed to go back to school. And this I did - I returned to my dream and to my school.
What a wonder, the sound of the hammer and chisel faded inside me and, I stopped doing dangerous electrical work and started to tutor children instead.
Today, ladies and gentlemen,
I am a university student studying "Informatics Management" and "Law and Human Rights." I choose these subjects in the hope that I can defend the rights of even one child.
Yet today I am struck by a new reality. The reality of the wars that are all around us, and the problem seems to be not only child labour but actual child survival.
Mr. Ryder, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I now work to help refugees in Lebanon who are victims of child labour. What I went through was bad but what children in emergencies and crises situations are going through now is even worse.
The irony is that while we hear more about peace and children’s rights, the more we are witnessing wars, conflicts, and many children are forced to work, often in very dangerous forms of work, in order to survive. Some children have taken up arms, or have fallen victim to gangster-like employers who make children work in slavery-like conditions.
The playground is no more a field for children to play and have fun with each other. Rather it has become a battlefield where children are enslaved in a world of fear and danger, devastating their bodies, hearts and minds.
This is not to mention the millions of people who have to flee their homes, including children as I previously experienced, leaving behind their dreams, hopes, dignity and seemingly life itself!
Let us work together to end child labour, addressing its causes, embracing the victims, especially children trapped in armed conflicts which has devastating effects on children and their communities. In light of the World Day theme this year I sincerely hope that especially this form of child labour will be eradicated very soon, and that humanitarian principles can be reinforced, especially those of your esteemed organization.
Finally, I thank you all for giving me this life time opportunity to speak out to the world what has always been in deep inside my heart.
Thank you and God Bless you all
* Mr Abbas Ahmad Assi is a university student, pursuing a double major in Human Rights and Management, and he is a volunteer, supporting and helping to rescue refugee and displaced children, including Syrian and Palestinian children, from child labour. As a child, he worked in one of the most hazardous forms of child labour, extending electrical cables and fixing electricity. He also lived through harsh wars in Lebanon and was displaced with his family. At the age of 15, with the support of the Ministry of Labour and ILO partner organization, Beyond Association, he went back to school and began tutoring younger children.