Some of you read Dicken's "Oliver Twist" in school, or perhaps saw one of the sanitized stage or movie musicals adapted from it. In the adaptations the less savory portions of the story were minimized, and it's understandable that when we see kids on the streets of Thailand (or Vietnam, or India) it's easy to merely think they make a living collecting odd contributions to help support their families, and this is sometimes the case.
On an early trip to Thailand, my friend stopped me from putting coins into a child's cup at a BTS station, explaining that it wasn't a good thing to encourage the behavior. "Why not?" I asked "They might not eat today otherwise." "Bad people hurt them," he said in a somber tone, and pointed to what looked like stripes showing on the little girl's legs. I understood instantly, but he waited until we were a few yards away from the child before making a whipping motion with his arm. "If she does not bring home enough money, she is beaten."
That seemed like all the more reason to drop money into the hand still stretched out in our direction, but I caught the meaning of his reasoning. He went on to say that very small children are stolen from villages, sometimes even drugged and held on a sidewalk in someone's arms who may not even know the child's name.
Children have had extremities amputated or been otherwise disfigured in an attempt to boost their "sympathy" factor and raise their daily take, he said.
"Oh, please," I said. "That happens in movies like 'Slumdog Millionaire' - it doesn't really happen HERE, does it?" His face darkened and he said "There is a boy in my Grandmother's village I know who has had this happen to him. He got away and returned home, but now he has only one foot." I've since met the boy, and while I can't vouch for how he lost the foot, he only has one to get around with.
Some children (like the one above) have an obvious legitimate disfiguring disease and hopefully have a slightly better life due to the kindness of passing strangers, but we can't know for sure about many too many of them.
I suppose the best we can do is just follow our hearts and give money to folks on the street as we see fit, but I personally find myself being far more skeptical - and I don't like that.
Partly out of frustration, but also in an effort to better help children there I became involved in the Pattaya Street Kids Support Project. I know I've already mentioned this organization in another post, but I bring them up again as a way to make a positive difference with the confidence that donations are actually making a lifetime difference of an entirely more worthwhile and positive manner. I hope you'll look into it.