A view shows the entrance of Gardereve daycare inside the building in Jdeideh. Image Credit: REUTERS

BEIRUT: The alleged abuse of toddlers at a daycare in crisis-stricken Lebanon has sparked alarm over the physical and emotional wellbeing of children in the country, where a nearly four-year economic meltdown is seeping into all aspects of life.

Distressing footage emerging on social media in recent days depicted a woman, reportedly a staff member at the Gardereve daycare outside the Lebanese capital Beirut, striking toddlers on the head and face as she fed them and repeatedly forcing food into their mouths even as they cried.

The videos - shot on a mobile phone months ago but only recently circulated on social media - prompted an outcry from parents.

“It’s unacceptable. It’s impossible to get those videos out of my head,” said Tatiana Tannous Hachem, an architect who told Reuters that some of the videos included footage of her own daughter from approximately five months ago.

Her daughter, who was about six months old at the time of the alleged violence, had started exhibiting problems sleeping around the time the videos were shot, Hachem said.

Hachem speaks to Reuters Image Credit: Reuters

“I would have never thought she was being abused,” she told Reuters.

The Internal Security Forces said in an online statement that it had detained two people on Monday night in connection with the case, without giving their full names.

Lebanon’s health ministry meanwhile said in an online statement on Tuesday that it had shut down the daycare after carrying out a “rapid investigation” into the alleged violence.

“This closure is not enough, and the punishment must be a lesson,” the statement quoted minister Firas Al Abiad as saying.

Reuters was unable to reach the woman accused of carrying out the abuse, who was in the custody of Lebanese security forces, or identify a legal representative to address the accusations on her behalf.

Since it began in 2019, Lebanon’s financial collapse has cost the local currency roughly 98 per cent of its value, seen GDP contract by 40 per cent and pushed inflation into triple-digits.

Image Credit: Reuters

That has strained the country’s education system, once hailed as among the region’s best. It has also put pressure on families who could once live comfortably on one salary but must now have both parents working to provide for their children.

Hachem said she was now afraid to leave her children at daycares but could not afford to leave her job to care for them.

“Given the living conditions, what can we do? Will someone compensate me for my salary?” she said.

The United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF) said the incident was “part of a trend” it had been tracking of growing violence against children throughout Lebanon’s meltdown.

Deputy representative Ettie Higgins said their research had found the most vulnerable children were those up to age four, who were the most likely to be subject to violence.

“The frequency of these extreme cases is unfortunately increasing, even if they are not in the headlines,” Higgins told Reuters, saying authorities needed to invest more in social services, to monitor daycares and carefully vet staff.

“That was just the tip of the iceberg, what we saw this week at the nursery,” Higgins said.