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Prof. Rima Habib

Prof. Rima Habib
Professor of Occupational & Environmental Health, American University of Beirut


Rima Habib is a Professor of occupational and environmental health, and Chair of the Department of Environmental Health, at the Faculty of Health Sciences at the American University of Beirut.  Throughout her career, she has lead research and made contributions in themes including: Health of displaced, refugee and migrant populations; Ecosystem approaches to human health in poor rural communities; and -Work-related exposures and human health.  Grounded in principles of social and environmental justice, Dr. Habib’s research has challenged traditional approaches to occupational health research and public health practice. As a pioneer in gendered analyses of household work and women’s health, Dr. Habib has developed innovative and culturally appropriate approaches for policy makers to recognize women’s domestic labor and its impact on individual and community health.

Most recently, her research has focused on the working experiences and occupational health outcomes of refugees in Lebanon, including Syrian refugee populations. Since 2015, she has led a project to assess the working conditions and social contexts of child labor among Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.  Her academic research has backed her support and participation in public activism for the rights of workers to basic labor protections, as well as broader state recognition and support of marginalized worker populations, particularly working refugee children. Dr. Habib has helped organize colleagues and allies to call for greater international financial support for economic and social reinvigoration of refugee communities. She is also a founding member of the regional Agriculture, Environment, and Health Network.

For her work on documenting the precarious living and working conditions of vulnerable refugee communities, Dr. Habib was recently awarded the OHS Section’s International Award of the American Public Health Association (November 2017). In recognition of her achievements and contributions in the field of occupational and environmental health, she has also been elected as a Fellow of the renowned Collegium Ramazzini.


Conceptualizing Child Labor in Conflict Settings: The case of Syrian refugees

The persistence of child labor as a widespread global phenomenon is a result of the failure to challenge the conditions of economic injustice and child exploitation. Underlying this failure are policy frameworks that do not address the underlying conditions that produce child labor, namely state fragility, armed conflict, and environmental problems. An estimated 250 million children live in armed-conflict affected areas (Raqib, 2017), where the incidence of child labor is at least 77% higher than the global average (International Labour Organization, 2017). UNICEF (2016) estimates that about 535 million children live in conflict or disaster-stricken areas. Child labor thrives under these conditions because of the poverty, vulnerability, and lack of opportunities characteristic of – areas affected by conflict and ecological disasters. The international system has not addressed the root causes of child labor, failing to raise and coordinate adequate relief and development resources when conflicts transpire.

This presentation will propose a new theoretical framework on child labor that incorporates the prominent role state fragility and armed conflict play in the constitution of this phenomenon. The presentation will further explore this theoretical framework through a case study of child labor in Syrian refugee communities. The Syrian conflict has resulted in one of the greatest humanitarian crises of the 21st century. Over 5.6 million Syrians have become refugees, mostly residing in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. Bleak prospects for Syrian refugee youth have raised concerns of a “lost generation” of children who have had their housing, schooling, and childhoods interrupted. The combination of inadequate national refugee policies, abject poverty, and withering international aid for the crisis have made child labor endemic among many Syrian refugee communities in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey (Küppers & Ruhmann, 2016; International Labour Organization et al., 2017; Habib et al., 2019). This address will share stories that elucidate how child labor takes root in conflict settings and how the international community can better address the challenges facing those who are most vulnerable.


Habib, R. R., Ziadee, M., Abi Younes, E., Harastani, H., Hamdar, L., Jawad, M., & El Asmar, K. (2019). Displacement, deprivation and hard work among Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. BMJ Global Health, 4(1), e001122. doi:10.1136/bmjgh-2018-001122

International Labour Organization. (2017). Global Estimates of Child Labour: Results and trends, 2012-2016. Retrieved from http://www.ilo.org/global/publications/books/WCMS_575499/lang–en/index.htm

International Labour Organization, Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (FUNDAMENTALS), & Centre for Strategic Studies (CSS) of the University of Jordan. (2017). Jordan National Child Labour Survey 2016 – Analytical Report. Retrieved from Amman: https://bit.ly/2EWUBaX

Küppers, B., & Ruhmann, A. (2016). Because We Struggle to Survive: Child Labor Among Refugees of the Syrian Conflict. Retrieved from https://www.tdh.ch/en/media-library/documents/child-labour-report-2016

Raqib, S. (2017). How Wars and Disasters Fuel Child Labor. Human Rights Watch.

UNICEF. (2016). Nearly a quarter of the world’s children live in conflict or disaster-stricken countries. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/china/en/press-releases/nearly-quarter-worlds-children-live-conflict-or-disaster-stricken-countries-unicef

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