War Against Children: Forced Begging – “stolen lives” (Part 7)

(This article is part of an ongoing series showing adult obsession in waging “War Against Children” by Fr. Jerry Novotny, OMI.)

What would you do? Let’s say you are walking along the streets of a major city and you see a mother and child sitting on the sidewalk. The child looks very ill and is holding out a tin cup, desperately asking for help.

My Pro Life work has taken me to many poor countries in Asia. Children begging for money is one memory that will not go away. Young children around 7 or 10 years old carry babies around, day and night, begging tourists for money to buy some food for their babies. My very first encounter was in Sri Lanka on my way to a business hotel in Columbo. The taxi had stopped for a red light. Suddenly three children ranging, I estimated between 6 and 9 years old, were banging on the taxi window begging for money. I can still recall the sad look in their eyes as they held out their little hands. The driver shouted at them to go away and refused to open the window. As the taxi sped away, the driver tried to justify his actions by stating that the children are part of gangs who pocket most of the money.

When finishing a seminar in Indonesia, I went shopping the evening before my departure to buy some souvenirs. Walking down the street in the older part of Jakarta, which has one of the lowest poverty rates in Indonesia, I was able to witness the living conditions and poverty of many both young and old. I later discovered that over 28 million people in Indonesia are considered to be living below the poverty level. As I turned the corner heading in the direction of the shopping center, I encountered a mother in dirty clothes sitting on a smelly curb breastfeeding a child with two small children standing next to her. The older of the two took his younger brother by one hand and walked up to me, his hand outstretched begging for money. The family scene was one of extreme poverty. I followed my natural inclination, which was to donate a few Indonesian Rupiah.

I was told time and time again that I shouldn’t give money to children who are begging in Asia. It is difficult to accept the explanation that giving some money to street children is actually going to hurt them. Especially, when they stare at you with hungry in their eyes. It is very difficult to refuse. In Cambodia I was approached by a small, muddy-faced boy in the market area who begged for food by gesturing his hand to his mouth. My Cambodian interpretor again tried to discourage me from giving 1000 Cambodian Riel to the child (which is equivalent to 27 Japanese Yen or 24 cents in American currency). This made me feel better for a few moments until I saw two more mothers with infant children begging in the next block, and the next and the next.

In Senegal an estimated 50,000 children are forced to beg each day on the country’s streets. And the list continues as I search for countries with children begging for food on Google and Bing.

What is Child Begging? In many impoverished countries, especially in Asia, forced child begging is prominent. This practice means that parents or another group of adults will send children out on the streets to beg for money from tourists. This sounds very cruel on the surface. Even though Child begging is very damaging to the children who are forced into this situation, it is also how many families suffering from extreme poverty sustain themselves. The problem is that forced-begging leaves the children vulnerable to abuse. Since this practice involves child trafficking, it is hard to record exactly how many children are victims of forced- begging, and very little data exists on the issue. We know that forced-begging takes place in poor countries.

According to data published by the United Nations Children’s Fund, in the world’s poorest countries, just over one in five children is involved in child labor. What percentage are children forced into begging is difficult to estimate? It varies depending upon the level of poverty in a country. As an example, let’s look at India. There are over 300,000 child beggars in the country. “These children find their way to the streets owing to diverse reasons, but mainly because of poverty and an unstable home. Since they get no education or training to make a better living, they end up adopting begging as a profession,” said Swatang Singh, who works for the betterment of child beggars. Among boys begging was found to be more beneficial while girls who were made to beg were also sexually abused and pushed into prostitution.

What risks does a begging child face?

Child begging is not only one of the worst forms of child labour, but one of the worst violations of a child’s right and absolutely against the dignity of a child. The use of children for begging – whether the child appears to be accompanied by a ‘parent’ or not – is a denial of their fundamental rights, such as the right to protection, integrity and dignityImmediate risks comprise physical and emotional abuse, abduction, rape, and accidents. Longer risks include … an increased likelihood of drug use to ease this hard lifestyle, along with the exposure of being coerced into other dangerous work or bad situations (prostitution, forced labour, unsafe migration), involvement in crime plus a growing disconnection from their family and community.

Convention of the Rights of the Child. What is it? and what does it aim to protect? The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is an important agreement by countries who have promised to protect children’s rights. The Convention explains who children are, all their rights, and the responsibilities of governments. Read and download “The Convention on the Rights of the Child: The children’s version”

The four main aspects of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child can be summarized into five core principles: (1) non-discrimination. (2) devotion to the best interests of the child. (3) the right to life, (4) survival (5) and development. In brief, food, shelter, proper health facilities, sports, entertainment, love and care make up their basic needs, These are required for development and personal growth; consequently they fall under the term of “child rights”.

People and countries not suffering from poverty must get involved. They must make sure that education is available to child beggars which is a vital step in getting these children off the streets. They must also attack the causes of their poverty. As Pope Francis said recently that all people must “walk together, without prejudice and without fear, drawing near to the most vulnerable: migrants, refugees, displaced persons, victims of human trafficking (begging children), and the abandoned.”

The Scriptures say that without faith it is impossible to please God and he who does not believe shall be condemned. (Hebrews 11:6, Mark 116:16.) Are we justified by faith alone? No; “as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead”. (James 2:26.) From this we conclude that as one believes, one must join good works with faith. A faith without good works is a dead faith. “Though your faith be strong enough to move mountains, without charity it is nothing.” (I Corinthians 13:2.) “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me,” (Matt. 25:45.)

How will you respond? Pope Francis recommends the following: 

We know that God will ask each of us: What did you do for your brother? (cf. Gen 4:9-10). The globalization of indifference, which today burdens the lives of so many of our brothers and sisters, requires all of us to forge a new worldwide solidarity and fraternity capable of giving them new hope and helping them to advance with courage amid the problems of our time and the new horizons which they disclose and which God places in our hands.

He continues in Evangelii Gaudium: 

How I wish that all of us would hear God’s cry: “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9). Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? Where is the brother and sister whom you are killing each day in clandestine warehouses, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labor? Let us not look the other way. There is greater complicity than we think. The issue involves everyone! This infamous network of crime is now well established in our cities, and many people have blood on their hands as a result of their comfortable and silent complicity.”

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