The school dropout rate among Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is alarmingly high with 50 percent of 17-year-olds and 40 percent of 16-year-olds receiving no education, United Nations officials warned on Friday.
"We are sounding the alarm that the dropout rate is too high among school-aged children from the intermediary to the high school level," said Ray Virgilio Torres, head of the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Beirut, as he issued a report on the subject.
The report was released to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the international convention on the rights of the child.
Torres said that overall, nearly 15 percent of children between the ages of seven and 17 living in Lebanon's 12 Palestinian refugee camps and in Palestinian gatherings throughout the country drop out of school.
One third of those children are illiterate, according to the UNICEF report.
"The figure is really worrisome when you consider that half of 17-year-old children are school dropouts as opposed to 40 percent when it comes to 16-year-olds," Torres said.
"This is a sensitive age and if you add that to other risks they are exposed to in the camps, there is reason for alarm."
He said most of the kids drop out because of poverty, the lack of appropriate educational programs and a lack of perspective for the future.
"The youngsters say 'why study when I can't work afterwards'," Torres said.
Lebanese law prevents Palestinian refugees from practicing most professions or owning property.
Torres said another alarming factor is child labor among Palestinian refugee children which stands at 6.1 percent, most of them boys.
"This is too high when you compare it to figures in developed countries where child labor has practically disappeared," Torres said.
There are an estimated 250,000 to 270,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon. The majority are from families which arrived in 1948 following the creation of the state of Israel.