Syria's youngest refugees labor in fields to help feed their families

(CBS News) THE BEKA'A VALLEY, Lebanon -- At least 110,000 Syrians have been killed since the war there began as an uprising against the Assad dictatorship two and a half years ago. Millions have fled the country, the youngest of whom have lost much more than just their homes. They've lost their childhoods.

We spent time this week at a refugee camp in Lebanon.

Like children everywhere,10-year-old Batool gets up early and waits for her ride. Back in Syria, she dreamed of being a teacher, but Batool no longer goes to school.

Batool no longer attends school
CBS News

Like many refugee children, she now spends her days working in the fields because her family needs the money. On this day, she and other girls from the camp were picking beans. It's menial work done by women and children.

Syrian refugees labor in fields in Lebanon
CBS News

At the end of a back-breaking day of work, these girls will take home less than $5 each. It's not enough for one person to live on and for many families it's their only source of income.

Batool's family fled Syria for Lebanon four months ago.

"I miss school and my teachers," she told us. "I miss my home."

Her father says he knows how important school is -- but his children must work because he has no job.

"Of course," he says, when asked whether it is hard for him to send his children to the fields when he values education as much as he does.

Some children go to make-shift schools in the camps
CBS News

The United Nations estimates that at least half a million Syrian children are now living in Lebanon -- the majority in refugee camps like these. Some start working as young as seven years old.

With the help of a local charity, the U.N. has set up 22 make-shift schools.

We visited one classroom and asked how many children worked in the fields.

Many put up their hands. One girl said she worked in the potato fields.

Another told us it was hard work. When we asked why she did it, her answer was simple: in order to live.

But these children at least get some education.

Back in the field, Batool and the girls were finally nearing the end of their shift after four long hours in the hot sun.

Batool's father said his dream for her and her brothers and sisters was to see them get an education and to have a good life.

It's a dream shared by many Syrian refugee children, with no clear future ahead of them.

Syrians refugees living in camps in Lebanon
CBS News

  • Clarissa Ward

    Foreign Correspondent, CBS News