Child beggars are tough. There is no real welfare system in India. The government isn’t the smoothest operator and frankly, there is still enough prejudice and not enough compassion. These kids tug at you and put out their little hands. Sometimes they’re gaunt and have blank-looking eyes. Sometimes they just look like normal kids in rags running around. Whatever they look like, those young eyes and little hands tug and guilt you so it’s almost impossible to pass them by.
But sometimes, as hard as it is, giving these kids money isn’t always the best thing for them.
Families with children oftentimes know that school is the key to getting out of cyclical poverty. But, when you’re trying to find enough food for the day, the fact that this will go on indefinitely is not something you can think about. And, along with the cost of education, kids are a viable source of income through begging. Think about it: would you be more likely to give to a middle-aged man begging or a helpless little 8-year-old girl?
In best case, these kids really do need the money and either buy food themselves or their families use it for food or education. In worst case, the child (and maybe his or her family) could be part of a gang of beggars built specifically to get money, regardless of what they do to the kids (or the adults) in the process. This is where beggars get the reputation for being thieves and liars. From the few that are thieves and liars.
I’ve seen young street kids smoking. These are kids as young as 10. They were running through the streets in Kathmandu, and we would get tapped and look down to see a young boy pleading for money. But we didn’t give it because we had seen them earlier passing around cigarettes. They weren’t going to school. They didn’t have families. They would grow up living day-to-day and not caring, as long as they could eat and smoke.
And, for all these reasons and with all these stories, that’s why I can’t give money. I do give food. That’s the safest bet, if not hauling them home or to the nearest charity or church. I can’t give nothing. Regardless of what they’re doing with their lives or the cycle of poverty that they’re in, God still loves them and cares that they’re in pain. Sometimes they really just can’t help it and there’s nothing they can do. Sometimes it’s just a hard patch. And most of the time, there’s no real way we can know for sure. But if they need to eat, you can give them food. That way, you know it’s at least accomplishing the immediate task.
You can usually tell who is real by how they react when you do give them food. One raggedy little girl came begging from us once, and we gave her the soda and chips we had gotten for a snack. You should have seen her face. It was Christmas morning for her. She literally jumped with joy, gave us a huge smile, and ran off. This has happened quite a few times. Children begging at traffic lights. We gave them what we had: chips. They shrieked with joy and ran off to enjoy their bounty. Little boy on a bus, I gave him the ice cream that was melting from the hot hot sun. A huge smile came across his face.
In contrast, once we gave a begging woman with a baby a protein bar. She looked at it, disappointed. She gave it to the baby she was holding and held out her hand again. She wanted money. One guy we offered food to flat-out refused. He shook his head, his eyes turning from pleading to annoyance, and held out his hand again.
So, what can we do to help? Money sometimes hurts more than helps, when it’s going to the wrong causes or when it sets up a child as an indispensable source of income (which rules out school). Food is a better bet, even though it takes more thought and intention (making sure you pack snacks whenever you go out is tough to remember sometimes). Investigate charities that work to get children off the streets (make sure they’re transparent about their finances and make sure more money goes to the kids than to admin costs). Sponsor a child. Invest in education or trade schools for human trafficking victims. Go to a third-world country and teach English for a year. Buy a woman training and a sewing machine so she can make her own living.
Think about what you’re doing. If you feel the guilt, good for you. It shows you have a heart. But think about it, do your research, make sure this is the best way to use your money. A dollar in the right hands can change a life. A hundred dollars in the wrong hands can create corruption and feed habits of abuse and neglect.
On that cheery note, we’re going to the grocery store! Oh! We made a video awhile back, telling a little story and what can happen when somebody cares. 🙂
Our parent organization, India Christian Ministries, is a very well-run, transparent, professional, thoughtful charity that’s doing some awesome, innovative orphan care, ministry, and millions of other things. Check them out here.