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LEBANON: Underage marriages increase during pandemic

Child protection campaigners say closed schools and rising poverty, along with the lack of a legal minimum age, are pushing more girls under 18 into marriage.


By Cathrin Schaer


Die Welt (15.05.2021) – https://bit.ly/2SB7ZZw – Aid groups in Lebanon say the country’s ongoing economic crisis, compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, is forcing more children into underage marriages.


“From what we have been able to observe in the field and from what our local partners are telling us, we believe that child marriage is increasing as a result of the difficult circumstances here today,” Johanna Eriksson, who heads UNICEF’s Child Protection Program in Lebanon, told DW. “It is just one of the negative coping mechanisms that people here are resorting to.”


Farah Salhab, of the Save the Children organization in Lebanon, said: “Since the pandemic, we have seen a direct link between COVID-19 and a rise in child marriage.”


In March, UNICEF put out a statement saying the pandemic could result in as many as 10 million more girls being put at risk of being married over the next decade worldwide. Although some young boys are forced into marriage, this problem mostly affects young girls.



Dangerous conditions


Researchers who study the topic have concluded that the health and economic crisis in Lebanon are creating the kinds of conditions they already know will increase the number of underage betrothals.


Plan International, an organization that focuses on children’s rights, looked at what happened during past crises — for instance, the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa — to compile a May 2020 report on children living under lockdown. School closures had a huge impact, the organization found. Depending on such factors as whether families ask for dowries, Plan International concluded that school closures could increase a child’s probability of being forced into marriage by 25%.


Because remote learning simply wasn’t possible for many children in Lebanon, a lot of girls dropped out of school altogether, Salhab said: “We have spoken to girls who told us they were forced to get married after leaving secondary school.”


Even if schools in Lebanon were to reopen tomorrow, there will still be a lot of girls who never return to class, Eriksson said.



Beyond refugee groups


Other factors that are known to increase child marriage include the curtailment of development or aid programs, the potential for an unplanned pregnancy, the possible death of a parent or caregiver, and economic pressure, Plan International researchers wrote. The latter is one of the most significant factors in Lebanon.


Although there’s no dowry tradition in Lebanon, and no money changes hands when a girl marries, she does becomes her husband’s economic responsibility, Eriksson said. “From an economic perspective, her family sees that as positive,” she noted. “They believe they are doing what is best for their child.”


Perhaps one of the most concerning issues in Lebanon currently is that underage marriage seems to be becoming more widespread.


In the past, certain parts of the population in Lebanon had more underage or forced marriage than others. Some of the latest numbers, collected by UNICEF between 2015 and 2016, before the current crisis, indicated that about 6% of Lebanese women were married before they turned 18. However percentages are much higher among the country’s refugee populations. About 12% of female Palestinian refugees from Lebanon, 25% of female Palestinian refugees from Syria and at least a quarter of the newest arrivals, female refugees from Syria’s civil war, were married before they turned 18.


Now, researchers believe that children are also increasingly being married off outside of Lebanon’s refugee populations.


“We are starting to hear and see that this is also affecting the Lebanese population,” Eriksson said. “But that’s not surprising considering that levels of poverty are rising.”



No age limit


There is no firm data on this yet. Salhab said. Before the current health and economic crises, she added, the numbers for underage marriages in Lebanon had been going down. “But we can say that child marriage is more visible as an issue among communities where it was not necessarily a problem,” Salhab said.


Another reason why child marriage is possible in Lebanon is because, unlike many of its regional neighbors, including Iraq, Egypt and Jordan, the country does not have what is known as a “personal status law.” This kind of law regulates things such as inheritance, custody of children and the legal age of marriage.


Inside Lebanon, each one of the 18 recognized religious groups sets its own rules on the legal age to wed. These range from 14 years old for Catholics to 18 for members of the Greek Orthodox Church. This week, the country’s ranking Sunni Muslim religious authority raised its minimum age for marriage to 18. A few weeks earlier, Shiite Muslim religious authorities said nobody should marry before they turned 15.


Camale Cherfane, a member of the Lebanese Democratic Women’s Gathering, told DW that raising awareness of the dangers of underage marriage is also important. “Creating laws is not enough if individuals are not interested or trusting of them,” Cherfane said. “More awareness will be a catalyst for further development and a change in law.”



Remedies available


Lebanese civil society activists have been trying for years to get the government to pass a personal status law. One was introduced to the Parliament in 2017. It would have criminalized child marriage but was never passed.


The fact that the rate of child marriage is rising in Lebanon is obviously not welcome news for the many organizations fighting the issue. However, specialists have a good idea of what is needed to bring the numbers back down, Eriksson said.


Before the civil war in Syria, only about 10% of girls there were married younger than 18 — far lower than the 25% in recently arrived Syrian refugee families in Lebanon today. “So it’s not just a social or cultural issue,” Eriksson said. It was only after these families became refugees and were confronted with economic hardship that they started to have their children enter into marriage far younger, she added.


To resolve this, several things must happen in tandem, Eriksson said. Firstly, Lebanon needs a personal status law, or something like it. “Secondly, service and support for families and children is needed,” Eriksson said. This involves everything from access to educational opportunities and information on sexual and reproductive health for teens to emergency cash transfers to families in need. And then, finally, there needs to be widespread promotion of different attitudes toward gender roles — including the idea of early marriage.


“With all those things combined we know we would have a stronger protective environment and there would be less child marriage,” Eriksson concluded.


Photo credits: ANWAR/AMRO/AFP/ Getty Images

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LEBANON: Broken promises on women’s rights

UN review should focus on increased protection against violence, bias.


HRW (04.11.2020) – https://bit.ly/3nfm7BH – Lebanese authorities are falling short of their international legal obligations to protect women and girls from violence and end discrimination against them, Human Rights Watch said today.


Human Rights Watch has submitted a report to the United Nations Committee reviewing Lebanon’s compliance with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which is tentatively scheduled for June 2021. The country has not made progress to carry out a number of recommendations from its previous review in 2015, including not creating a unified personal status code that would guarantee equal treatment for all citizens and amending the discriminatory nationality law to ensure that Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese men can pass on their citizenship to their children.


“Another five years have passed, and Lebanon has done little to end discrimination against women and girls under its international obligations,” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Lebanon’s authorities should show that they are serious about women’s rights by coming through on long-overdue reforms before they have to answer to the United Nations again for their failures.”


Lebanon has not taken any steps to issue an optional civil code or to reform its 15 religion-based personal status laws and the religious courts that apply them. These courts discriminate against women across the religious spectrum and do not guarantee their basic rights, especially in matters such as divorce, property rights, and responsibility for children after divorce.


The authorities have also not reformed the nationality law, which prohibits Lebanese women married to foreigners from passing citizenship to their spouses and children, while men who marry foreign nationals can pass on their citizenship. This prohibition affects almost every aspect of the children’s and spouses’ lives, including legal residency and access to work, education, social services, and health care. It leaves some children at risk of statelessness.


Legal protections from domestic violence, sexual assault, and harassment remain inadequate. In August 2017, Lebanon repealed article 522 of the penal code, which allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims, but left a loophole with regard to offenses relating to sex with children aged 15 to 17, and sex with virgin girls, with promises of marriage.


The current domestic violence law defines domestic violence narrowly and fails to specifically criminalize marital rape. Members of parliament have introduced multiple draft laws since 2017 on sexual harassment, but parliament has yet to take any action. A lack of coordination in the government’s response to sex trafficking continues to put women and girls – especially Syrians living in Lebanon – at risk.


Human Rights Watch has documented how women and girls, especially trans women, sex workers, refugees, and asylum seekers, have experienced systemic violence from Lebanese authorities, particularly in detention centers. Trans women have described being placed in men’s cells, being denied food and water, and being coerced to confess. Allegations of sexual violence, including rape, against women in custody are common. As an example, Layal al-Kayaje was arrested on September 21, 2015 for “harming the military’s reputation” after she alleged being raped and tortured by two soldiers in military custody in 2013.


Lebanon has consistently failed to properly investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible for torture. In 2016, parliament passed legislation creating a national body, the National Preventive Mechanism Against Torture, to monitor and investigate the use of torture, and in 2017 it adopted a new anti-torture law. The body’s five members were named on March 7, 2019, but the government has still not allocated its funding.


Lebanon’s economic crisis, compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic and the port explosion in Beirut on August 4, 2020, has made life worse for marginalized populations, not least for migrant domestic workers, the majority of them women from African and Asian countries. Many have reported increased incidents of abuse by their employers during the lockdown, and at least seven have taken their own lives since March. Migrant domestic workers remain excluded from Lebanon’s labor law protections provided to other workers, and their legal status remains tied to their employer under the kafala (visa sponsorship) system.


On October 14, 2020, Lebanon’s State Shura Council, the country’s top administrative court, delivered a sharp blow to migrant domestic workers’ rights when it struck down a new standard unified contract adopted by the Labor Ministry on September 4. The new contract introduced new protections for migrant domestic workers, including vital safeguards against forced labor, and would have been an important first step towards abolishing the abusive kafala system.


“For the past year, women from all walks of life have taken to the streets to demand equality and an end to all forms of discrimination,” Majzoub said. “While the authorities have taken some steps, they need to heed calls for systemic change for equality.”

Photo: Lebanese women have long been leaders in the country’s protest movements. Here, women shout slogans and wave the Lebanese flag during a demonstration in down town Beirut on October 19, 2019. © Marwan Naamani/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images.

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The Syrian women and girls sold into sexual slavery in Lebanon

Syria’s refugee crisis has shone a light on sex trafficking in Lebanon, where victims are often treated as criminals.


By Daniela Sala


Al Jazeera (11..02.2020) – https://bit.ly/2uLjXUU – “How do I know most of the women working as prostitutes are controlled?” asked Paul, a volunteer for the Jesuits, a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church, before answering his own question. “[Because] the last time I tried to help one of them get in touch with an NGO, I got beaten and threatened by her captors.”


Everyone in Lebanon’s “sex trade” seems to be involved in trafficking in one way or another: Sources at both the Internal Security Forces (ISF) and the General Directorate of General Security (GS) in Beirut told Al Jazeera that even pimps working further down the chain of command ultimately report to a bigger network of organised traffickers.


Paul has learned the ins-and-outs of Lebanon’s trafficking world over the years. Beirut, the Lebanese capital, and Jounieh, a coastal town about 10km (6.2 miles) north of it, are where most victims of sex trafficking end up in Lebanon.


A GS officer estimated that there are at least 800 women and girls who have been forced into prostitution in these areas. But the numbers are hard to verify because of the hidden nature of the problem.


While the ISF formally identified 29 victims – 10 of whom were Lebanese and 13 Syrian – of sex trafficking in 2017, the most recent year for which there is data, other sources, including officers at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and NGOs, put the number in the thousands.


The law


The plight of these women is compounded by the way the law is applied in Lebanon. Article 523 of the Lebanese Penal Code criminalises “any person who practices secret prostitution or facilitates it”. The punishment is a prison sentence of anything from a month to a year.


It is not illegal to work as a licensed prostitute but seeing as the government has not issued any such licences since the 1970s, those working as prostitutes are vulnerable to being arrested and punished.


Beirut is no stranger to the sex industry. Prostitution was legalised in Lebanon after World War I when the government decided that concentrating prostitutes in one area – Mutanabbi Street, which became Beirut’s downtown red-light district before it was destroyed in the Civil War – would protect Lebanese women from French and Senegalese soldiers.


According to the Lebanese Prostitution Law of 1931, brothels were divided into two groups: public brothels and escort houses. The law also set conditions for those working outside the brothels, dividing them into groups of workers; cafe girls, mistresses and “artistes”.


After Lebanon’s Civil War, which lasted from 1975 to 1990, secret – meaning unlicensed – prostitution became a crime.


But hundreds of women enter Lebanon each year, particularly from Eastern Europe and Morocco, with an “artiste” visa, to work as dancers in clubs. “Artiste” is widely understood to be a euphemism for “prostitute”.


Life on the streets


It is about 8pm on a Saturday, close to the Daoura intersection near Bourj Hammoud in Beirut’s Armenian district, on a crowded road full of busy shops and cafes. From his car, Paul has just spotted a woman leaning towards a black SUV. She and the driver talk for a few minutes. Eventually, she gets in the car. The transaction is quick, and people passing by do not even seem to notice.


“They found a deal,” explains Paul’s wife, Ray. The couple, both in their 40s, have been volunteering for the church for years. Paul first got involved 20 years ago when he discovered that one of his neighbours was being forced into prostitution. He says he considered it his “Christian mission” to help. Ray decided to join him soon after they met in 2010.


Paul and Ray are Armenian-Lebanese and asked that their real names be withheld because of the sensitivity of their work. For the past 10 years, they have distributed food and medicine once a week to “people in need”, the couple’s term for the homeless, drug addicts, beggars and women exploited into prostitution in Beirut.


As they drive around Doura, in the eastern suburbs of Beirut, the main road is still crowded. Two policemen are patrolling the area. But right around the corner, Ray spots another woman sitting in a car with a man. They have seen her here before, waiting on the street corner.


“We meet women who are Lebanese, East Africans and, in recent years, a lot of Syrians, of course,” says Paul. “In my experience, they all want to leave the job, but the only ones I have seen leaving a trafficker – it was because they were handed to another [trafficker].”


The Chez Maurice case


It came as no great shock to Paul when, in 2016, news broke that 75 Syrian women had been trafficked and held captive in a Jounieh brothel for years.


What became known as the “Chez Maurice case”, after the brothel in which they were held, only came to light because four women managed to escape.


Legal Agenda, a Lebanese NGO that collected several testimonies from survivors of the Chez Maurice brothel, described the place as a “torture chamber”.


“I didn’t think there was a state [law and order] in Lebanon,” one of the trafficked women told Legal Agenda. “[One of the traffickers] told me that he bought the state with his money. I believed him the moment I was detained in the General Security building for 24 hours and then released scot-free.”


Despite the media uproar surrounding the case, the owner of the brothel, a Lebanese businessman, was soon released on bail. Hearings into the case have been postponed multiple times and, three years on, the trial is only just about to begin.


‘No trust in the system’


In 2011, the US State Department had placed Lebanon on its tier 2 watchlist of countries not fully complying with standards to combat human trafficking. Following pressure from civil groups such as Legal Agenda, Lebanon passed a new anti-trafficking law.


Since then, however, the Syrian crisis has precipitated a mass influx into Lebanon. Many of the refugees are women and children who have already suffered trauma and may be particularly vulnerable to exploitation.


Al Jazeera heard accounts of several scenarios in which Syrian women and children ended up in the hands of traffickers. One involved marriages, either in Syria or Lebanon, where the “husband” later revealed himself to be a trafficker. Another involved groups of women and children being trafficked across the border. There are also cases of women and girls being forcibly recruited within refugee camps or even sold by their families to traffickers.


However they arrived in Lebanon, human rights groups and aid workers say not enough is being done to protect them. Ghada Jabbour, head of the anti-trafficking unit at NGO Kafa (“enough” in Arabic), which focuses on gender-based violence, explains: “There is no trust in the system. Victims do not ask for help and do not report. And, at the same time, there is no outreach programme for the victims.”


When the numbers do not add up


According to Lebanon’s ISF, the number of identified victims of trafficking – including those forced into begging, labour exploitation and prostitution – has remained steadily low: 19 in 2015, 87 in 2016 (mainly the Chez Maurice survivors) and 54 in 2017. Most were Syrian.


However, Dima Haddad, programme officer at the IOM, says the official statistics do not come close to conveying the magnitude of the problem.


From her office at the IOM headquarters in Beirut, she coordinates a regional taskforce to counter human trafficking in Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan – the countries most affected by the Syrian refugee crisis. Sitting at her desk, surrounded by charts showing the dozens of tasks her team has planned for the next few months, she says: “Wherever there is a crisis, there is human trafficking.


“Vulnerability is increasing, hence trafficking is increasing.”


Asked whether there are gaps in the system for identifying the victims, Haddad answers immediately. “Absolutely. If I have to be more diplomatic, I would say there is a lot of work to do. It is urgent, as we consider anti-trafficking a life-saving intervention.”


There are also great obstacles to women being able to tell their stories. Aside from the shame and stigma that prevent victims from coming forward, it can also be difficult to access them. Approaching women on the street is dangerous – as Paul has found over the years – as they are watched by their traffickers.


In researching this feature, Al Jazeera tried to speak to survivors through NGOs, local journalists and local refugee camp leaders. However, those who were prepared to speak asked for money in exchange, requests that appeared to come from husbands and other relatives. Permission to access Baabda female prison – where many of the women arrested for prostitution are held – was not granted.


Falling through the cracks


During 2017, the ISF adopted a policy of trying to root out all cases involving potential trafficking victims through its Human Rights Unit. As of 2018, at least 108 training sessions had been given to the 37 law enforcement agents attached to the unit to help them identify and deal with suspected trafficking cases. But, according to Alef, a human rights watchdog based in Beirut, and other organisations, these training sessions are rarely given to those on the front lines and are, therefore, missing their target.


Ashraf Rifi, who served as minister of justice between 2014 and 2016, and who was ISF director-general from 2005 to 2013, says it could take 10 to 15 years before there are significant changes in how cases of human, and specifically sex, trafficking are identified and combatted.


“It is a cultural problem,” he explains in his office, referring to the low numbers of women – and particularly Syrian women – identified as victims of trafficking. “It’s not unusual, because of stigma and discrimination, that Syrian women are considered ‘just’ prostitutes.”


The ISF is also responsible for investigations into exploitation networks. And yet, Rifi adds, one of the main challenges is the “high level of corruption”, including within the ISF itself.


In August 2018, the head of the ISF’s Human Trafficking and Moral Protection Bureau, Johnny Haddad, was arrested on charges of corruption in connection with a prostitution ring. To date, he is still under investigation by the ISF’s ethics committee, meaning that all information related to the case is classified.


Meanwhile, hundreds of women continue to fall through the cracks – treated like criminals instead of victims.


In 2016, 304 women were arrested on charges of prostitution, according to the ISF’s data. More than half of them were Syrian. All were placed in prison.


The only support available to these women after they are released comes from charities. Dar Al Amal, a local NGO, helps women recuperate in its sparse offices in Sin el Fil, in the eastern suburbs of Beirut.


Here, the volunteers provide emotional and practical support to women who were forced into prostitution, trying to address their legal, medical and psychological needs.


Ghinwa Younes, a social worker who regularly visits the Baabda women’s prison, says: “All the women I met want to quit this life. Most of them are in fact trafficking victims – but ISF did not understand they were victims. As soon as they leave the prison, they rarely get any kind of support and they are immediately back in the network of their exploiters.”


When Al Jazeera spoke to Joseph Mousallem, a spokesman for the ISF, he acknowledged that the difference between prostitution and trafficking is not well understood by police officers. “But it is a cultural issue involving the whole of society, not only the security forces,” he says.


“Countering trafficking is a priority, but we do have thousands of priorities: the whole system is under pressure. We do our best, but not have the means or the resources to track the victims.”


‘Of course they are victims’


Lawyer Hasna Abdulreda meets dozens of these women during detention visits. For 10 years, she has provided legal support to women in jail, and she is currently the head of the legal department at the Lebanese Centre for Human Rights, a local NGO.


“In the past five years, every month at least two or three [women] reach out to me, after being arrested as prostitutes,” she says. “Most of them are Syrians and, of course, they are victims of trafficking.”


But there is little she can do.


“The trials are very fast and if the judge is given any reason to think that the woman is consenting to prostitution (for example because she keeps a share of the money), then he will just send her to prison without any further investigation,” Abdulreda explains.


This is despite the fact that both the UN Convention on Human Trafficking and Lebanese law state that the victim’s consent should be considered irrelevant.


“The only thing I can do is to give [detained women] my phone number and ask them to call me once they leave so that I can refer them to a shelter or an NGO. In prison, they do not have a phone, so I can’t contact them once they are released,” Abdulreda adds.


Despite many women asking for help, in 10 years nobody has called back.


For Syrian women, it is more complicated. Because they are foreigners, they are held by the GS for up to two days after being released from Baabda, Abdulreda says.


“I’m not allowed to access their files. I just lose every contact with them.”

‘Double standard’


Even when trafficking cases go to court, the odds appear stacked against victims of sex trafficking.


Legal Agenda analysed the 34 trafficking cases that made it to court in Lebanon between 2012 and 2017. According to lawyer Ghida Frangieh, who put that report together: “There is a clear double standard in the judges’ attitude towards prostitution and begging.


“While in all cases involving forced begging, judges were quite fast in ruling that it was a trafficking case, when it comes to prostitution, they were digging deeper into the means of exploitation, asking for proof that the woman was actually forced into it. In certain cases they ruled that the woman was not to be considered a victim of trafficking as she consented, at least to some extent.”


Frangieh says that as well as reflecting a general prejudice against women in prostitution, this view has also been influenced by the Chez Maurice case.


“[Chez Maurice] became the victim paradigm. If you do not fit into this stereotype, you are hardly considered as a victim of trafficking,” she explains.


But this is not how trafficking works.


According to a former senior GS officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, sex trafficking generally happens in one of two ways: through highly organised rings operating in brothels (such as Chez Maurice) or through so-called “free agents”.


But, despite their name, free agents still operate under the protection and control of a trafficker. “There is no prostitution that is not linked to the main traffickers,” the former officer says.


‘Long-term solutions’


“Alone, we cannot do much,” says Jabbour from Kafa.


Along with the Catholic NGO network Caritas, Kafa runs a shelter for female survivors of violence, mainly domestic workers who have been abused by their employers. The ISF occasionally refers trafficking victims to them.



But their resources are limited: Since 2015, Kafa has been able to offer protection to approximately 100 women, 20 of whom (all Syrians) were sex-trafficking survivors.


“These shelters are just a starting point,” says Jabbour. “What we need are long-term solutions.”


Some of these women were relocated overseas, some got married, but others, without a proper support mechanism, simply went back into prostitution – either forced or out of desperation.


“Countering trafficking and identifying victims is something that cannot be done by NGOs. It is a state’s responsibility,” says George Ghali, director of Alef.


According to Ghali, the problem is not the law but rather in the implementation of the law. “Where are the investigations? We are talking about organised crime. This is not something you can expect NGOs to deal with.”


Back in Doura, Paul and Ray keep providing basic help to people in need. They do not have success stories to share.


Paul says he has not received any further threats from the traffickers. “[Why? Because] we make no change in the situation. And even if a girl manages to quit, they would have another one.”


He admits that lately, he has considered stopping his volunteer work because of the emotional toll it has taken.

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Lebanon: End systemic violence against transgender women

Protect against discrimination, simplify legal gender recognition


HRW (03.09.2019) – https://bit.ly/2lUU67W – Transgender women in Lebanon face systemic violence and discrimination, Human Rights Watch, Helem, and MOSAIC said in a report and video released today. Transgender women face discrimination in accessing basic services, including employment, healthcare, and housing, as well as violence from security forces and ordinary citizens.


For the 119-page report, “‘Don’t Punish Me for Who I Am’: Systemic Discrimination Against Transgender Women in Lebanon,” Human Rights Watch, in collaboration with Helem and MOSAIC, interviewed 50 transgender women in Lebanon, including 24 Lebanese trans women, 25 trans refugees and asylum seekers from other Arab countries, and one stateless trans woman, as well as human rights activists, representatives of international agencies, lawyers, academics, and healthcare professionals who work with trans individuals in Lebanon.


“This groundbreaking report shows the ever-present violence and discrimination against trans women in Lebanon,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Confronted by ignorance and hostility from society, trans women also face violence and abuse from the security forces and government that are meant to protect them and their rights.”


Exclusion of trans people is exacerbated by a lack of resources tailored for their needs and by the difficulties they face in obtaining identification documents that reflect their gender identity and expression. Discrimination is often worse for trans refugees, who are already marginalized.


The report shows that the discrimination transgender women face begins at home. Interviewees reported incidents of family violence, including physical and sexual assault, being locked in a room for extended periods, and being denied food and water. Many trans women were pushed out of their homes, and in the case of refugees and asylum seekers, their countries, yet they felt they had no recourse to the law. There are no shelters providing emergency housing for trans women, leaving them to navigate the informal, expensive, and often discriminatory Lebanese housing market on their own. Trans women reported facing discrimination by landlords, flatmates, and neighbors, in addition to being forcibly evicted by the police because of their gender identity.


Many trans women said that they do not feel safe in public. They told the researcher that security forces often subject them to harassment at checkpoints, arrest, or violence because of their appearance, in some cases amounting to torture. While Lebanese law does not criminalize being transgender, article 534 of the penal code, which criminalizes “any sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature,” has been regularly enforced against trans women. Trans people are also arrested on charges such as “violating public morality” and “incitement to debauchery.” Trans women detained under such laws reported being placed in men’s cells and made to give coerced confessions.


Further, members of the public harass and physically assault trans women with impunity, the report found. Many transgender women said they are forced to hide who they are to survive. One trans woman said that walking through Beirut in daytime “feels like boiling water is being poured on me.”


Nearly all interviewees recounted being denied jobs because of their appearance. For trans refugees and asylum seekers, this discrimination is compounded by their lack of legal residency, which limits their ability to work in Lebanon.


Many transgender women also face discrimination when seeking medical care, including being denied treatment because of their gender identity. One trans woman said: “I got really sick and had to be taken to the hospital. When I got there, I was spitting blood, but they refused to let me in because I am trans… I could have died at the hospital door.”


Trans women said one of the main obstacles to being able to access basic services was their inability to get identification papers that reflect their gender identity and expression. Trans people in Lebanon can only change their names and gender markers on official documents through a court ruling, often following a “gender dysphoria” diagnosis and surgery, which is expensive and sometimes unwanted. Many trans women are also deterred from seeking rulings due to high fees, lack of legal assistance, and protracted court proceedings.


In January 2016, an appeals court ruled that a transgender man could change his name and gender marker, overruling a lower court, and citing the right to privacy under article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The court found that gender affirming surgery should not be a prerequisite to gender identity recognition, but this does not set a binding legal precedent.


Lebanon should act swiftly to end the systemic discrimination and violence against transgender women. Lebanese security forces should stop arresting trans women based on their gender identity and instead protect them from violence, including by holding the perpetrators to account. The Lebanese government should enact legislation protecting against discrimination on the grounds of gender identity and establish a simple, administrative process allowing transgender people to change their names and gender markers on documents based on self-declaration, as is the practice in countries ranging from Argentina to Malta to Pakistan.


Donors and international agencies should fund trans-led initiatives to provide much needed services such as health care, legal aid, and income-generating activities. They should also fund emergency shelters for transgender women across Lebanon.


“Trans women in Lebanon have been forced to hide who they are just to survive, but the government can no longer claim ignorance of the violence and discrimination they face,” Fakih said. “By sharing their stories, trans women are demanding that the government see them and give them equal access to livelihoods, services, and protection.”


Selected Evidence


Randa, a 25-year-old Syrian trans woman, told Human Rights Watch that she spent five months and five days in detention, much of it underground in Roumieh – “no sun, no air” – after Internal Security Forces officers arrested her for sodomy:


They interrogated me from midnight until 5 a.m. They beat me nonstop and kept trying to make me tell them names of other LGBT individuals. They barely gave me food or water for 10 days. They didn’t let me call a lawyer or assign me one. They shaved my head. They tied me up to a chair with my hands cuffed behind my back. Every time the officer would ask me a question and I said, ‘I don’t know,’ he smacked me across the face. Another officer would come and put out his cigarette on my arm. I got sick while I was detained and I could barely stand up, and I asked for a doctor. They said, ‘Leave him to rot and die.’ Not only was there harassment from the police, but also other detainees. They cursed me and verbally harassed me the whole time I was there – they referred to me as ‘the faggot.’


Trans women face immediate discrimination when seeking employment due to the mismatch between their gender expression and the name and gender on their identity documents. The barriers to changing gender markers on official documents reinforce trans women’s economic marginalization. Elsa, 50, said:


My problem is my ID, they would never hire me, because I look like a ciswoman [a person who identifies as a woman and was assigned female at birth], no one would doubt that, but my ID says male. I went and applied for retail jobs everywhere in Beirut, they say, ‘Okay madame, bring your papers tomorrow and you can start.’ As soon as they see my ID, they don’t hire me. If I could explain my situation to them, that would be easier, but no one here knows or accepts what it means to be transgender. I tried four times in Bourj Hammoud, twice in Dekweneh, and for a woman my age, the embarrassment and humiliation are just too much.


While trans women’s access to formal employment is limited, their participation in the informal labor market denies them any protection when they are abusively dismissed. Lola, a 42-year-old Lebanese trans woman, said:


At my last job, at the airport, my hair was very long, but I put it in a bun and wore a cap, but they still insisted I cut it all off, and I just couldn’t, so they fired me. The security officers at the airport were not okay with me having long hair, that’s the reason they gave me. This was after three months of waking up at 5 a.m. to get to work at 6 a.m. and I worked until 7 p.m. every day, they paid me $400. I accepted that so that I can work and not be on the streets, and then they fired me.


In Lebanon, trans people struggle to obtain documents that match their identities. Diana, a 27-year-old Lebanese trans woman, said:


I threw my ID in the trash and applied for a new one. I told them I lost it. I had to go to my hometown, to the mukhtar, I swear around a dozen times just to have them put my picture on an ID as I look now. I got so much harassment, they asked me, ‘Why do you look like this? Aren’t you a man? You are disgusting.’ The mukhtar said he won’t start my papers until I cut my hair, and I had to bribe him so he would accept. Finally, after months of running around, they put my picture on my ID as I look now, but my name obviously stayed the same.


Lina, 28-year-old Iraqi trans woman, said:


Changing gender markers and names should be a normal process that doesn’t even require lawyers or medical professionals. I don’t need to ‘prove’ to anyone that I’m a woman, it’s just an internal feeling.

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