Everyone faces certain struggles when travelling, whether it is the infuriating task of living out a rucksack, adapting to the sweltering heat or just simply feeling lonely. I definitely suffered all of these at some point but my biggest challenge was dealing with levels of poverty I had never seen before.
There is one thing I want to focus on right now and that is dealing with child beggars. This was a problem in all countries I visited but most predominantly India. (This was also my first stop so I kinda threw myself in the deep end.) Poverty in India is intense, I received warning of how poor it was before my trip but it was still shocking to see beggars and slums round every corner. Whilst you’re splurging on long haul flights and nice hotel rooms these people can’t afford a loaf of bread and it’s hard not to feel guilty. No children should go hungry, not in the 21st century, in recent years our technology has advanced beyond belief and yet we still can’t ensure children all over the world have access to clean water and food. One third of the worlds malnourished children live in India and it is really emotionally challenging.
So straight up, should you give money to child beggars? Answer, no. No matter the situation, no matter how much your conscience tells you to, do not give these children money, whether there disabled, starving or just down right adorable you just cannot give them money, you are causing so much more harm than you realise. If you’ve seen the movie Slumdog Millionaire you’ll know what i’m talking about and if not let me elaborate. 60,000 children go missing every year in India, a large portion are kidnapped and forced to work as beggars for gangs. The money you give them will go straight to the boss’ pockets, don’t think you’ll be buying that child a warm meal that day. Infact you’re putting that child in a worse situation by funding this industry. It is believed that starving or disabled children with earn more money than a healthy looking child, the solution? These gangs will go to extreme measures to create sympathy, starving children to make them look boney and fragile, amputating limbs and even using acid to blind children. I think anyone with a heart will agree that this is absolutely heartbreaking, you do not want to fund these monsters, by giving money to the blind singing girl you see on the streets of Delhi you are enabling the gangs to grow financially and expand their numbers. All this time keeping the children on the streets out of education.
So what can you do? It’s impossible to ignore that little boy with the huge brown eyes begging you to buy a postcard featuring the Taj Mahal. How do you say ‘NO’ to the malnourished girl selling bracelets on the beach of Goa? In reality, the best thing you can do, if you really want to make a difference, is give money to charities, local and international, such as Save the Children and Railway Children. However, to me this is a moral dilemma, there is poverty all over the world, children and babies starving every day. But when you’re tucked up in your comfy English bed you don’t feel anywhere as near motivated to help these people as you do when it is right there in front of your eyes. Giving to charities is good but does it mean this little girl will eat today, or have a drink of clean water. This is where is gets controversial. Being frankly honest, if I want to give a beggar a chapati, or the rest of the water in my bottle, I will. Outside Amber Fort, Jaipur, I gave a barefoot boy who couldn’t have been any older than 3 years old a drink of water and the look of joy on his face brought tears to my eyes. The main argument against this is that giving to beggars encourages them to continue begging, targeting tourists and westerners. But really, they are forced to do this, they don’t have a choice, why shouldn’t they beg if it is the only way they might eat today. We all share this earth, so why should I deny these people something to eat or drink? It is going directly to them, not their bosses, bringing them happiness if only in the short term. Anything that can bring a smile to their face is surely better than nothing, even just playing a game with them or chatting to them. On the beaches of Sihanoukville, Cambodia we would have races with the children and they would ask us questions about our fascinating white skin. Why not make someone else happy? Some people I met travelling would hesitate to do this, their argument ‘Well you can’t save everyone.’ It would be unfair to help that child if you can’t help the millions of others all over the world. NOOOOOO, this is so so so wrong. If we took this approach we would never get anywhere with tackling world poverty. It is not wrong for you to help anyone, to give someone something to eat, to bring a smile to their face. There might be someone else who is starving in the next city but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to give to the person who needs your help right now. This is one of the biggest lessons I learnt travelling and I will not be forgetting it soon. So there you have it, my opinion on how to approach the problem of child beggars. You may agree or disagree, it really differs in terms of peoples own moral beliefs but I believe if you have the opportunity to directly bring happiness to someone in need you shouldn’t turn it away.