When travelling outside of the developed world, whether you are pulling a Louis V. suitcase behind you or carrying an overstuffed pack on your back, you will most likely have more money in your pocket than what the average person in the country you are visiting will make in a year.
Because of this, you will likely spend the majority of your trip looking into the big, innocent eyes of precious children with dirty cheeks, bare feet, and empty palms stretched out towards you. It will be very easy to reach into your pocket and pull out a few coins to drop into their palms, an amount that is really pennies to you in the grand scheme of things. By doing this however, you are not helping them, but condemning these children to a life of dependence and poverty.
In most of the countries where you see kids begging in the street, there are few government social programs or education regulations in place to ensure that children and their families are being properly taken care of. To supplement this, NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) have set up shop to offer schooling and housing free of charge.
You would think that parents would jump at the chance to have their children receive an education from these NGOs but, this is often not the case. Because they pull at the heartstrings and open the wallets of tourists, children make more money begging than their parents make at legitimate jobs. Even though sending their children to school is free, to many parents (who are, sadly, usually uneducated themselves) the lure of quick cash is more enticing.
Begging has become a big industry and there are men and women who scour the countryside, looking for young, cute kids to come work for them as beggars in the city. They take these children from their families, promising to send back money that the child earns. They essentially act as their ‘pimp’.
What this means is that the money you put in a child’s outstretched hand is usually going to the adult that is standing off in the shadows nearby and only a fraction of it will go towards the child and his/her family.
The best way to avoid perpetuating this cycle of poverty is to say no to that outstreached hand and instead donate directly to one of the hundreds of NGOs. If you just can’t bear to walk away from the tear-stained cheeks looking up at you, try giving them something of no value that cannot be taken away from them. I carry balloons to give to the little boys and bobby pins to give to the girls. Both cost next to nothing, take up little space in a bag and (in my experience) make the child you give them to smile more than a dollar would.
After all, they are just kids…