THE NEED TO BEG — WHAT IT DOES TO CHILDREN

Vincent Lyn
7 min readAug 31, 2021

By Vincent Lyn

Begging is a desperate and dehumanizing act, and beggars are almost uniformly treated and viewed poorly. Though, of course, many differences due to culture and religion, I found that begging is performed, treated and viewed much more similarly than I expected. Their legal status, how society viewed and treated them generally, giving and receiving as related to them, how religious and secular ethics treated the issue of begging and many more.

As I sat in the café sipping mint tea and people-watching in the main square of the Medina of Marrakesh, I noticed a blind beggar; I had seen him before but had never paid him much attention. As I watched, I saw that his eyes moved behind his sunglasses. This by itself could have been meaningless, but as I watched him I saw that he ran into people — despite his cane — and the people he ran into were all foreign tourists or rich-looking Moroccans. The next day sitting in the same café, I watched him again only run into foreigners and wealthy people, which confirmed my suspicions from the day before that he had been pretending to be blind. I found this both diverting and worthy of admiration. This was the first time I saw begging as performance. Since then, as I have traveled in other parts of the world and paid more attention here in the United States, I have noticed that almost all beggars seem to use some type of performance to solicit money. Most often it consists of demonstrations of how needy a person is in order to elicit pity; other times it’s an attempt to be interesting or amusing in some way, and occasionally it’s an offer of some small service. However all of these constitute some type of performance. Of course there are people soliciting money on the streets who are more clearly performers: buskers and street acrobats for example.

However, I will limit my analysis to people who simply appear to be beggars or panhandlers, rather than entertainers who presumably demonstrate some type of skill or talent to give amusement to their audience, while asking for money. Morocco, India and the United States are not only three quite different cultures with three different majority religions, but also the three places where I’ve been most impressed by the beggars. Thus the contrast between them is quite intriguing. Volumes could be written about the various aspects of begging and as interesting as many of these aspects are, this is only a single essay, so I am going to limit my inquiry to society’s view of beggars, philosophy (including religion and giving and receiving), and begging as performance. As I am comparing and contrasting three diverse societies I thought it would also be interesting to look at three diverse aspects of begging. While there are quite a few differences, I have found many more similarities. For example, there seems to be almost universal negative attitudes towards begging and beggars; also while specific techniques tend to be culturally dependent. The general concept of the techniques seem to be similar across the three cultures, most relying on the same response from the potential givers. Without comparing many other cultures and religions as well, I cannot definitively say that any of these aspects are truly universal; however my findings of similarities cause me to wonder if there are universals or if it’s simply coincidence that these three cultures should converge so much. However, despite the differences in religion and culture, begging is viewed, treated and performed similarly in Morocco, India and the United States.

In many impoverished countries, including Greece, India and Senegal, forced child begging is prominent. This practice means that parents or another group of adults will send children out on the streets to beg for money from tourists.

With the COVID-19 virus, tourism has decreased drastically. This means that these children no longer have anyone to beg from, which is both good and bad. Child begging is very damaging to the children forced into it, but it is also how many families suffering from extreme poverty sustain themselves. Here’s what the impact of COVID-19 means for both child beggars and their families.

The Problem

Forced-begging is incredibly damaging for children. Not only does it put them in dangerous situations and leave them vulnerable to abuse, but it also keeps them out of school. If a child is being forced to beg by an adult who is not their parent, it can lead to them being separated from their families. Since this practice involves child trafficking, it is hard to record exactly how many children are victims of forced begging, and very little data exists on the issue.

While data in forced begging is almost non-existent, data on general child labor is more plentiful. Forced-begging takes place primarily in impoverished countries. In fact, child labor in general is overwhelmingly a sign of a poor country. According to data published by the United Nations Children’s Fund, in the world’s poorest countries, just over one in four children is involved in child labor. While this statistic may look bleak, it also means that if these countries were to become more developed, child labor would likely become drastically less prevalent.

An Unfortunate Necessity

Forced begging is also how many families keep themselves fed. In the era of COVID-19, child beggars face a number of hardships. First, they are at risk of catching the disease. These children spend much of the day on the crowded streets where they are exposed to many people and their risk of contracting the virus is higher. Second, there is hardly anyone left to beg from. According to data published by the World Tourism Organization, the change in international tourism in April 2020 was -97%. These families have lost a major source of their income, in a time when their country’s economy is likely struggling, especially if that economy relied heavily on tourism.

The economic impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is forcing millions of parents to expose their children to begging, child labor, and child marriage to make up for lost incomes, a new report from World Vision has disclosed.

A recent report released this year 2021, surveyed 14,000 families in nine Asian countries, 2,400 small business owners in Africa, and 360 Venezuelan migrants across Latin America. The survey revealed 110 million children worldwide are going hungry, and 8 million children have been pushed into child labor and begging amid the pandemic.

The report claims previous “alarming” predictions around increasing levels of violence, poverty, and hunger as a direct result of the virus are already being seen. As predicted, those who were already living among conflict and displacement and with the effects of climate change are hardest hit.

“Our rapid assessments in countries across Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia show we are on the cusp of a catastrophe for children,” said World Vision New Zealand National Director Grant Bayldon, “Each assessment shows major disruptions in income, in the ability to buy sufficient food, and increases in risks to children as families struggle to cope.” Bayldon added: “The effects are already being seen, and could lead to an increase in extreme poverty and hunger not seen for decades.”

Among the surveyed families in Asia, one-third have lost work. Sixty percent said they depend on casual daily labor as a key source of income, of which 34% said transport restrictions were now the most significant barrier to receiving an income. One-third of families claim they have just one week’s food supply left. The report also revealed that within Cambodia, 28% of families faced job losses that were so substantial they were forced to send their children to work. In Bangladesh, 34% of families who reported significant income loss said they have sent their children to beg on the streets. Among Indian city slums, 40% of respondents claim they have witnessed spikes in domestic violence.

Rekha, a 15-year-old from Delhi, said travel restrictions and reductions in family income mean individuals have to break laws and risk getting sick to access food from ration shops. “There is a problem of food and rations. How will people like daily wage earners manage? My father is also a laborer, and even we are finding it hard to manage our home,” she is quoted in the report. “There are lots of problems in other homes as well.”

Solutions

The human rights organization Anti-Slavery has been fighting to end forced child begging for almost a decade. The organization works specifically to end forced child begging in Senegal, where child begging is commonly perpetuated through Koranic schools, where students’ schoolmasters will often require that the children beg. The organization has been working to get the government of Senegal to recognize how drastic the problem of forced child begging is, and to take action to prevent it.

Making sure that education is available to child beggars is also a vital step in getting these children off the streets. The World Bank has been working to support Senegal’s government in its efforts to improve education and bring education to poorer areas.

The drop in tourism hurting the forced child begging industry is both a positive and a negative; it could leave families without income, but it could allow child beggars a chance to get an education and stay off the streets. However, this outcome is only possible if education is available. When the tourism industry begins to grow again, it is vital that these children don’t return to the streets.

Vincent Lyn

CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children

Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization

Economic & Social Council at United Nations

Middle East Correspondent at Wall Street News Agency

Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts

--

--

Vincent Lyn

CEO-We Can Save Children. Director Creative Development-African Views Organization, ECOSOC at United Nations. International Human Rights Commission (IHRC)