The Right to Play Versus the Right to War? Vulnerable Childhood in Lebanon’s NGOization

  • Estella CarpiEmail author
  • Chiara Diana
Part of the Palgrave Studies on Children and Development book series (PSCD)


In the wake of the massive human displacement from Syria (2011–), some international NGOs (INGOs) have intervened in Lebanon to prevent Lebanese and Syrian youth from “radicalizing” and joining armed groups. In the framework of international humanitarian assistance within the “Global South,” while refugee adults are expected to become self-reliant, children and youth are often addressed as objects of universal concern and rarely as aware subjects of decision-making. Drawing on interviews conducted between Spring 2015 and Autumn 2016 with INGO workers and child players and their parents, we consider INGO play activities in contexts where political violence is widespread and longstanding, such as the Tripoli governorate in northern Lebanon. This chapter first aims to unpack the INGO discourse on children’s vulnerability. Second, we analyze INGO discourses and practices in a bid to critically examine the humanitarian and developmental attempts at providing politically neutral spaces for refugee and local children. We therefore build a threefold analysis focusing on the dehistoricization of political violence in the Arab Levant, the employment of the “Sport for Development” formula as a path to social cohesion, and the weak cultural literacy of INGOs in regard to contextual adult-child relations. Thereby, we argue that while INGOs tend to commodify the child as an a priori humanitarian victim, the international assistance community should rather strive to provide children with alternate avenues for political engagement in order to counter war recruitment.



This research was partially funded. The Institut de Recherche et Etudes sur le Monde Arabe et Musulman (IREMAM-CNRS, Aix-en-Provence, France) financially supported Diana’s fieldwork in Lebanon in Autumn 2016. Carpi’s fieldwork in Spring 2015 was funded by Trends Research and Advisory, Abu Dhabi. We are grateful to these funding institutions and to the Institut Français du Proche-Orient (IFPO, Beirut, Lebanon), which logistically supported Diana’s fieldwork. Finally, we are also indebted to Right to Play’s workers and child soccer players: without them this research would never have been possible.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Aix-Marseille University, OMAM-MSH Brussels, IREMAM, LabexMed.MarseilleFrance

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