Ricky Martin visits Syrian refugee children: ‘The world must do more’
Ricky Martin has paid a visit to some of the displaced children of Syria.
The singer travelled to Lebanon to meet a small portion of the Syrian children who have sought refuge there since the conflict began six years ago.
An estimated 1.1 million displaced Syrians are currently in Lebanon – more than half of whom are children.
In his role as an ambassador for UNICEF, Martin warned that child refugees were particularly at risk of exploitation and abuse – with large numbers being left with no choice but to go out to work, rather than attend school.
The singer – who is the father of eight-year-old twins – added: “We are in the sixth year of a crisis that has impacted the lives of millions of children and their families. An estimated 2.8 million children are now out of school in the region.
“I met children who have been forced to become breadwinners for their families, working up to 12 hours a day.
“The world must do more to make sure these children are protected from exploitation and given access to safe environments where they can learn and be empowered.”
One of the children he met was 11-year-old Batoul, who fled Homs with her family. Alongside her two older sisters, she now work in the fields in order to survive.
Batoul said: “I don’t get paid any money. I work very long hours harvesting broad beans, cherries, potatoes – whatever is in season”.
UNICEF warned:” The deteriorating economic situation for Syrian refugees has dramatically exacerbated the problem of child labour in Lebanon.
“Adding to the psychological distress already affecting many of the children who have fled conflict and violence at home is the challenge associated with some of the worst forms child labour such as working on construction sites, which can cause long-term developmental and psychological damage as well as physical harm.”
The charity is attempting to counter the problems by providing free education and economic opportunities for parents and youth of working age, as well as providing protective environments for children and adolescents where they can play and receive the support they need to get back into formal education.
Travelling through a settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, the singer – who came out in 2009 – met teens attending life-skills training, and even played a game of football.
He said: “I am inspired by the courage of these children. They are gaining the knowledge and skills they need to contribute to their families, communities and societies when they reach adulthood. Investing in their present is an investment in the future of the region.”
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UNICEF says it is “working closely with the Government institutions, as well as local and international partners, to meet the needs of over 800,000 vulnerable children who have sought refuge in the country with a focus on health and nutrition; education; child protection; water, sanitation and hygiene; and support services that specifically target adolescents”.
The Puerto Rican singer previously hit out at “xenophobe” Donald Trump for “harassing the Latin community”.
He said: “We have to defeat the power that Trump pretends to have over Latinos, anchored in low rhetoric and xenophobic speech, which his campaign team is convinced works for him.
“Xenophobia as a political strategy is the lowest you can go in search of political power.
“This is an issue that unites us and we need to battle it together, not just for us but for the evolution of humanity and those to come.”