Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Begging Children: The Darker Side

On August 3rd there was a post that showed two little boys giggling while begging at the foot of the stairway outside the Sala Daeng BTS station. At the time I didn't go into the less pleasant aspect of this seemingly casual activity that can sometimes be a well-orchestrated business, but after hearing a recent story from a friend there I guess maybe it's time to talk about it. I'd rather not go into the story from yesterday's email, but it makes the examples below pale by comparison.

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.


Anonymous said...

I experienced a similar situation a few years ago whilst crossing one of the road bridges in Bangkok with a doctor friend who at the time was working in one of Bangkok’s hospitals.

Sitting on the bridge with their begging cups were five children and I started to get some coins out of my pocket when my friend said “No”. He then asked which of the five children I intended to give my coins to and I replied that it would obviously be the little girl who had her arm missing below the elbow.

It was then that he explained that many of these children are deliberately mutilated by their family or the gangs that have bought them from the family and then put out to beg in the busiest tourist areas. He saw the look of disbelief on my face and went on to explain that children who have a limb (or two) missing are much more likely to attract the sympathy of tourists than the other children. He continued that he had treated children brought into the hospital with limb injuries that required amputation supposedly the result of a motorbike accident but which had obviously been caused by a very sharp implement such as a scythe or kitchen blade. Sadly it makes economic sense for these children’s pimps to mutilate a child to ensure a better return on the investment they made in buying the child.

khunbaobao said...

Blog friend Was Once submitted a comment on this post suggesting that the royal family help these kids. There ARE programs in place in Thailand, but just as in our own home countries, there are always greedy and opportunistic "bad" people who would take advantage of the situation. Was Once had also (without malice) included a link to a Forbes article containing a comment I felt was uncomplimentary about HRH. I'd prefer to keep the blog apolitical, and since I can't seem to edit a comment, I'm adding his comment this way.

Was Once said...

Feel free to not post it.
I understand and no big deal.

khunbaobao said...

I appreciate your consideration Was Once. I tend to err on the side of caution, and the Forbes link (while probably true) was a bit accusatory. I do agree that it's unfortunate that many countries don't do more - not for the lazy, but for their less fortunate... my homeland included!

Was Once said...

A favorite: Buddhist Global Relief
Grassroots projects in Buddhist Countries to provide Emergency Food support.