Change Yourself…Change The World.

Child Beggars
July 19, 2009, 4:40 am
Filed under: Bangladesh, Travel Tip

A bit of a ‘travel advice’ post- I just wanted to give everyone here a back round on begging (specifically child begging), so when they go out into the third world and see it for themselves, maybe they’ll have more of an inkling on how they should act.

Child beggars are commonly found in SouthEast Asia (probably Africa, South America, and other places too- though I haven’t been to those other places so I can’t say).  Usually they are dressed in rags, dirty, maybe an eye or a hand missing, and pitifully looking up to you with their big eyes and hand outstretched, constantly putting their hand to their mouth in a ‘feed me I’m hungry’ gesture.

I remember the first time I came to India, and didn’t know how to handle this scene in front of me. My leaders from Carpe Diem, Dan and Aleta, just walked down the street as if they didn’t exist. I was shocked at their apathy- but now that I’ve been in SouthEast Asia for over a year I’ve realized that it isn’t apathy- it’s just experience traveling in a third world country. I remember when Dan gave us all a talk in Delhi (one of my first days outside of the US), that in India, almost all of the streets are controlled by the mafia. Children, women, and men are all paying this mafia for their right to beg on the street- so most of your money isn’t going to that person, but to a corporation that allows begging to exist. Ever seen ‘Slumdog Millionaire?’ Then you know what I’m talking about. My leaders Dan and Aleta said, by giving money to these people (whether children or adults), you’re setting up a precedent that a) Westerners are walking bags of money, and b) that these institutions can be in place (begging) because it is profitable.

If begging WASN’T a profitable business (especially for children, because what Westerner’s heart DOESN’T break looking at an emaciated child?), where would these children be? Who puts these children out on the street? Their parents, or the mafia. If these children couldn’t make money from begging, maybe their parents would actually send them to school to get an education. This is what I hear all of the time.

So what I hear and know is, begging is bad. Giving money to beggar children is a bad thing, because it keeps them on the street, it enables people to do horrible things to them like cut off their limbs to make them look more pitiful, and they don’t get an education. Advice that I hear a lot of is that if you want to GIVE, then donate to an organization or charity. However, this is an issue too. When talking about this with my friends, they raise the issue ‘Well sure I can donate to an organization, but what about the child that’s RIGHT in front of my eyes who is hungry? What about right now?’

Even buying food for beggar children is a tough task, because that child will usually take the food and give it right to their parents, as they are told. Some interns in Bangladesh have gone so far as to invite beggar children to eat with them- but this has also started a problem. These beggar children outside of the Grand Prince Hotel now expect that these Westerners will take them out of meals (which they regularly do). Not only do they make a significant income a day (50 taka some interns have found out, which is a better salary than a Bangladesh adult working in a restaurant), but they also get free meals. What do you think the mother is going to decide? ‘Should I send my child to school, or should I continue to make them beg?’

I am not saying that what these interns are doing is wrong by any means (in fact, it is probably the best thing someone can do in this sort of scenario). But it just seems to me, that no matter what you do, there will continuously be negative side effects. If you give the child money, then they will continue to be out on the street instead of getting an education, as well as allowing this practice to continue. If you donate to an organization, then you’re trying to help eradicate this practice 20 years down the road, and aren’t helping the scene right in front of you. If you give the child food, they will bring it to their parents. If you BUY the child food, then they (and their parents) will have the expectation that every foreigner who comes along is a walking wallet (which is generally not a good practice either, but the lesser of all evils).

I am still figuring out the best way to handle all of this. Right now, I am usually in the mode of ‘apathetic traveler’- I ignore them. I tell myself it is because through my practice, maybe other Westerners will stop giving money to beggars, and maybe then these children will no longer be mutilated, and can get an education. I suppose that’s a bunch of BS but I’m really big on this whole ‘butterfly effect.’

Or maybe I’m just being a jerk who is completely insensitive to beggars. I don’t know what the right line is. I guess there is no right line in this kind of scenario. You have to do what you think is best. The problem is, everyone thinks there is a better way to sort this thing out, so it’s hard to achieve the eradication of begging when others (who are probably new to this), can’t help stopping and giving change to these children (and they shouldn’t be made to feel bad about it either).

Anyway, a lot of differing perspectives. There is my best line of thought. Let me know if you have some fresh ideas.



5 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Walang gustong macomment sayo hahaha

Comment by Gago

*magcomment haha

Comment by Gago

hey britanny, how much should my approximate budget (not including accommodation) be if I’m interning with grameen bank for a month and also intend on travelling around Dhaka over the weekends?

Comment by devyani

Hi Devyani,

Truth be told the internship was a few years ago, so I don’t really remember- but I think $1,000 should probably be more than enough for you to live and travel in Bangladesh for the month!

Comment by brittanygoesglobal

I agree with you… It’s tough but I experienced this a lot during my service in the more touristy parts of Guatemala…

Comment by Steph

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