A classroom sits empty at a school in Loueizeh, east of Beirut, Lebanon, March 2, 2020.
© 2020 AP Photo/Hussein Malla
As another school year is about to begin in Lebanon, the country’s education minister, Tarek Majzoub, has issued a decision which will mean many children cannot attend school. The impact of his decision is to exclude children whose mothers are Lebanese but whose fathers are not from enrolling in public schools.
Basic education is free and compulsory for Lebanese citizens, but under the country’s discriminatory 1925 Nationality Law, only children with Lebanese fathers are granted citizenship. For children whose sole Lebanese parent is their mother, they often have to wait to enroll in public school until all other Lebanese children have enrolled.
The nationality law restricts basic rights for thousands born to non-Lebanese fathers, including rights to affordable health care and to work and own property. Local rights groups have lobbied for decades to amend this.
Each August, the education minister specifies the criteria for enrolling students in the upcoming school year. A campaign, “My Nationality is a Right for Me and My Family,” has persuaded past ministers to instruct school officials to enroll children of Lebanese mothers on an equal basis with children of Lebanese fathers.
Last year, campaigners convinced then-minister Akram Chehayeb to overturn his decision denying enrollment to children deemed “non-Lebanese.” Instead, he instructed school administrators to “properly care for the enrollment of students whose Lebanese mothers are married to a foreigner, to treat them as they would treat Lebanese students, and to make space available to them.”
The campaign has recorded 78 children who so far this year have been denied registration because their fathers are not Lebanese citizens, organizer Karima Chebbo told Human Rights Watch. The campaign brought the cases to the education ministry but was told to wait until the minister issued his formal decision on school enrollment. However, his August 26 decision left these children excluded once again.
International law says all children should receive free and compulsory primary education. But in Lebanon, this battle must be re-fought each year.
The Lebanese government should change its discriminatory nationality law, not reinforce it. Minister Majzoub should issue a new decision, stating clearly and unambiguously that children of Lebanese mothers be treated the same as children of Lebanese fathers, regarding their right to education. With months of Covid-19-related school closures leaving many children at risk of dropping out, which research shows is linked to vulnerability to child labor and child marriage, Lebanon’s education ministry should focus on ensuring more students return to school, not less.