Saturday 15 December 2018

Donncha O'Callaghan: As a father of three girls, the situation in Lebanon is frightening

Declan Whooley

Munster rugby player Donncha O'Callaghan says the level of sex exploitation and gender-based violence among refugees as a result of the Syrian Crisis is "frightening".

The UNICEF Goodwill ambassador returned to Lebanon for the second time this week since war broke out in neighbouring Syria four years ago.

More than 1.2 million Syrians have fled across the border to 16,000 settlements scattered the country which has added an additional 25 per cent to Lebanon's pre-crisis population. Lebanon now is the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world .

Cramped living conditions, informal and limited education, alarming sanitation, over-worked health services and poor nutrition are some of the major obstacles that are encountered on a daily basis for the rapidly growing number of displaced Syrians.

UNICEF Goodwill ambassador Donncha O'Callaghan on his second trip to Lebanon since war broke out in neighbouring Syria four years ago
UNICEF Goodwill ambassador Donncha O'Callaghan on his second trip to Lebanon since war broke out in neighbouring Syria four years ago

Another deeply concerning issue is gender-based violence, where programmes is place are currently struggling to cope with demand.

ABAAD, a non-government organisation created in 2011 to cater for women and children affected by violence, says the issue is worsening in parallel with the overall crisis.

UNICEF Goodwill ambassador Donncha O'Callaghan on his second trip to Lebanon since war broke out in neighbouring Syria four years ago
UNICEF Goodwill ambassador Donncha O'Callaghan on his second trip to Lebanon since war broke out in neighbouring Syria four years ago
A young Syrian family at the refugee camp in Lebanon
UNICEF Goodwill ambassador Donncha O'Callaghan on his second trip to Lebanon since war broke out in neighbouring Syria four years ago
UNICEF Goodwill ambassador Donncha O'Callaghan on his second trip to Lebanon since war broke out in neighbouring Syria four years ago
UNICEF Goodwill ambassador Donncha O'Callaghan on his second trip to Lebanon since war broke out in neighbouring Syria four years ago
UNICEF Goodwill ambassador Donncha O'Callaghan on his second trip to Lebanon since war broke out in neighbouring Syria four years ago

"The level of aggressive activity will increase," a spokesperson warned.

O'Callaghan concedes that being a father himself makes these harrowing tales all the more startling.

UNICEF Goodwill ambassador Donncha O'Callaghan on his second trip to Lebanon since war broke out in neighbouring Syria four years ago
UNICEF Goodwill ambassador Donncha O'Callaghan on his second trip to Lebanon since war broke out in neighbouring Syria four years ago

"Girls here are so vulnerable to sex exploitation and gender-based violence," he concedes.

"It's frightening for me as a father of three girls to think that young girls and young women out there, due to the trauma prevalent from the war and lack of coping male mechanisms, are the most at risk."

Read more on our special reports on the Syrian Crisis in Friday and Saturday's Irish Independent.

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