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Human retrievers: Lebanon's gun-dogs replaced with children Open in fullscreen

Shireen Qabbani

Human retrievers: Lebanon's gun-dogs replaced with children

Local and Syrian refugee children alike live in impoverished conditions in Lebanon's Akkar district [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 3 December, 2015

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Feature: Impoverished children, including Syrian refugees, are braving the dangers of shooting fields to retrieve birds shot by affluent hunters - a job usually performed by dogs.
Children no older than ten are being hired in the Akkar region of northern Lebanon as human hunting dogs, retrieving birds and game shot by affluent hunters.

Poverty and destitution have forced their families to send them to do this menial job to earn money.

At 4:00am, seven-year-old Omar waits for his friends to gather at the entrance of Arida, a town in Akkar.

When one hears a car approaching he shouts at the potential customer: "I can retrieve [birds] for 5,000 liras ($3)."

The children mostly work in autumn. After that, some go back to school, while others work in other jobs such as farming.

Omar

Omar says he is bored at school, where he claims teachers are cruel and often cane him. He sees himself as a man, not a child.
     I ask for a little money, but sometimes the hunters are generous and give me double what I ask


Omar described his work day as "fun".

"I put on my clothes before I go to bed. I wake up and go to the village entrance, where the shooting zones are," in reference to the areas the hunters come here to lease.

"When a 4x4 car drives by, I offer my services. I ask for a little money, but sometimes the hunters are generous and give me double what I ask," Omar adds.

"The hunters shoot at the birds, and when one falls, I run looking for it. If I find it, I get paid."

Omar wants to be a hunter himself when he grows up, so he can "shoot without fear". He plans to save money to buy a rifle and wants to put it in his bedroom.

His town is close to the Syrian border, where he hears it is very dangerous. He believes a rifle would protect him and his family too.

Warning: some viewers might find this footage distressing


Udai

Udai, who is also seven, has a different story. He is completely against killing birds.

"Birds have souls, like people," he tells his friend, Omar. "So why should we kill them?"

Udai went through war in his home country, Syria, and hates hunting.

He fears being shot by a stray round. The blood and the dead birds remind him of the carnage he saw in Aleppo, and he does not like to see armed men.

Udai is not a game retriever as such and instead is a sort of a "broker", securing hunting places for customers to lease.

Udai's family fled from Syria after the conflict escalated. His father died and he is being raised by his uncle, who took him forcibly from his mother.
     The bullet casings and gunpowder could harm the children. Would it alleviate their poverty to have them end up being injured and in hospital?


She had refused to leave Syria for Lebanon.

The uncle said Udai talks to his mother on the phone, and justifies taking him by saying he wanted to protect him from the indiscriminate shelling.

"I work as a farmer and shepherd to provide for my family and nephew. I have put him in school, and he only works during the hunting season," the uncle said.

"Udai should be a doctor in the future, so he can treat the sick and the wounded. I hope to fulfil this wish for him."

Dangerous child labour

But a local who identified himself as Abu Sami is deeply critical of having children do this risky job.

Child labour is illegal in Lebanon - but the law is poorly enforced, especially in peripheral areas such as Akkar.

"Retrieving birds is a job for hunting dogs, not children," Abu Sami said.

Abu Sami said the locals were against hunting in the area, as well as their children's involvement.

"In addition to being troublesome and a nuisance, it is a danger to the children's lives, especially those who have threadbare clothes that barely protect them from the cold let alone the hardship," he said.

"The bullet casings and gunpowder could harm the children. Would it alleviate their poverty to have them end up being injured and in hospital?"

Hospitals in Lebanon are mostly privately owned and can be expensive, especially for Syrian refugees. Last week, a man who had a car accident in the area died after hospitals refused to admit him, for having neither money nor insurance.

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