Should we ignore beggers? Does it make us a bad people?
Updated: Sep 13, 2019
Begging stands for one of the most present and visual forms of child exploitation having devastating consequences for their development and their futures. Begging happens in every continent of the world, and how can we avoid it when It's estimated that up to 150 million people around the world are homeless.
So should we ignore them? The answer is no, of course you shouldn't ignore anyone who is directly talking or trying to engage with you, but you should not engage in giving money. Only by treating them as human beings will we help give people the confidence they may need. I find it increasingly frustrating when I sit on the tube in London, or walk on the streets in multiple countries and see people ignoring people directly pleading or speaking to them, as if they don't exist. However, it is important that you do not give money to people pleading for money, especially children. This perpetuates the begging culture!
There is a lucrative business in many places around the world that funds and fuels child trafficking, creating organized begging. Children are used to generate compassion from tourists, in the hope for money in return. In some shocking reports there have been incidents of families drugging their children sitting on the street, and living conditions made to look worse for them to create more money. I've myself seen children begging alone through the night at local bars where tourist hang out and get drunk. Most heartbreaking are the stories of children being bought from vulnerable families or stolen from homes and trafficked to nearby big cities for organized begging.
The first time I really questioned begging was in India when at age 15, I used to take the complimentary food from the hotel, and stock my bag with food and drinks so that if approached, I would have something else to give other than money, soon realizing that the reaction was not always grateful and my efforts to offer food would be rejected. The first time I was "scammed" by someone begging was in Finsbury Park, London where a couple told me they were desperate to get on a bus and showed me a hospital band showing they had just been from an operation and couldn't afford the journey home, my heart sank and I gave them the last of the change I had, only to see them 40 minutes later in the same place buying a crate of beers from the shop. In London and other 'booming' cities around the world, begging is just as common practice and it's difficult to know someones true intentions.
I understand that not everyones intention is good, and how do we then determine those trying to scam us, substance abuse disorders, those begging through organized crime, and those who are generally at their last wits and scrabbling through bins to feed their children? The answer is we don't know, all that we can do is educate ourselves in knowing the harmful impact of funding organized crime, if those children come back making money, then it encourages this business. A child that looks like they are starving can be starved by their employers to make them look skinnier to engage more sympathy!
Having the opportunity to live in Kampala, I wondered to myself with a city of such beauty and wealth, corporate businesses and buzzing economic growth, where were all these street children in the main city centre coming from, and it wasn't until I reached out and researched from the right sources that I found an undercover video published by NBS, about how children end up on the streets, being bought from low income communities and vulnerable and desperate women. These children start with begging and then are forced into crime and prostitution.
So how can we help?
Helping can be in all sorts of forms, and doesn't need to be time consuming.
Personally, I will always buy food or water, that's a personal thing for myself as If I can, I would rather make sure that a child or person isn't going hungry for the night.
Going that little bit further
Engaging your time - if you have time why don't you ask them where they have come from, why they are on the streets, and tell them about local organizations that support children on the street or local soup kitchen for adults that they can have access too.
Let these children know that there are child helplines, making them aware of the accessible help and support, anonymously if they prefer, as this gives them access to knowledge they may not have been represented with.
Investing your time to help others
Research local organizations that give community support, a community hub where people sleeping rough can access support and help, and give your time or money to these organizations. We should be investing our time in non profit organizations that help people empower themselves by providing education and trade skills.
Support Local businesses and street businesses
Buy your fruit from someone selling fruit on the street, go to local markets and buy from local people. Eat from street vendors! I have heard so many travelers think they will get ill from eating a fruit they have not seen before! Step out of hotels and businesses and invest your money into local businesses and street vendors. It's not just about giving back money to the community and helping the economy for the people of that country, it also provides role models in communities, children and people on the street seeings their local communities thriving from selling products and services allows them to have an inspiration that begging is not the only option.
This photo is from a 90 year old woman who sells bananas on the street in Vietnam. She really inspired me, I can honestly say I didn't want or need any bananas but how on earth could you say no, what an inspiration that this woman carries around bananas by herself in the high 30's degrees.
These are the people we should buy from, not supermarkets owned mostly by international owners!