When traveling or volunteering abroad, especially in developing countries, chances are you will be confronted by a child asking for money. What do you do? Do you give some change, a larger bill, or do you walk away?
Last Fall, Jillian Keenan published an article for Slate.com titled Keep the Change, Giving Money to Child Beggars is the Least Generous Thing a Tourist Can Do. In the article she explains how harmful giving money to child beggars can be.
“Many travelers already know that when we give money (or gifts that can be resold, such as pens), we perpetuate a cycle of poverty and give children a strong incentive to stay out of school. You also may already know that giving candy to children in some areas of the world actually causes enormous suffering, since many communities do not have the resources to treat tooth decay. But the reasons to never, ever give to child beggars go much deeper than that. Organized begging is one of the most visible forms of human trafficking—and it’s largely financed and enabled by good-hearted people who just want to help.”
Child beggars are often victims of human trafficking and the money they earn begging goes to organized criminals who are enslaving children. The movie Slumdog Millionaire opened a lot of people’s eyes to the plight of child beggars in India but the truth is human trafficking happens everywhere. A BBC’s Panorama program about an investigative report on child beggars in the UK revealed that a child begging could make up to 500 pounds a day. And what happens when the child grows up? Often they are pushed into prostitution.
I love what Keenan suggests on ways to interact with child beggars. We don’t want to ignore the children but we can’t give them money directly. She suggests donating to a legitimate charity and finding ways to interact with beggars that don’t involve giving gifts or money.
“The imperative to not give money or gifts to child beggars doesn’t mean we have to turn our backs on them. Donate to responsible NGOs, and look for creative new ways to be kind to children that won’t disrupt familial dynamics, encourage long-term poverty, undercut local businesses, or abet human trafficking.” “Find an inventive, responsible way to be kind.”