Don’t save the children: child begging in Cambodia
The image of scruffy children with their hands outstretched is a difficult one to clear from your mind and from your conscience. But when you give money to a child on the street the only person who benefits is yourself. Imogen Champagne explains.
After spending a few thousand dollars on airfares, accommodation and the holiday of a lifetime you would have to be a very selfish person to turn your eyes away from an outstretched hand attached to a child in need. Or would you? Handing a few thousand Riel to a ruggamuffin kid on the street with scruffy clothes and a grubby face might seem like the compassionate thing to do, but who is really getting that money?
Child begging in Cambodia shows itself in a thousand ways: a child with a cheeky smile and a stack of bracelets; a protruded stomach and an outstretched hand; a baby slung over a shoulder and a mother’s anxious eyes. Tourist, locals and aid workers alike are all guilty of slipping over a few notes for a bracelet, flowers, book, or a smile. After all, where is the harm?
Well, it’s everywhere. And it’s helping no one. Let’s be clear about this: the only person benefitting from this is you, the virtuous tourist. You walk away feeling a bit better about the poverty surrounding you while the child walks one more step down a path that is taking them nowhere good. This doesn’t make you a bad person, not at all – it makes you normal. It’s a normal human response to pain and suffering, especially when it’s children. We all want to help how and where we can. But it’s time to act responsibly and stop saving the children this way.
Who are you really helping?
The negative repercussions of giving a few dollars to a child on the street are endless. To start with, it derails a child’s schooling, aids a never-ending cycle of poverty and enables child predators and traffickers.
When you give children money on the street, you are paying for them to not be in school. For people who live hand to mouth day by day, the guarantee of a few dollars right now is a lot more appealing then the vague promise of stability and progress that is education. Families in a hard place will take their children out of school and put them on the street because they know that this will feed them. It’s a heart-wrenching decision for sure, but in the long term it causes so much harm.
Feeding a child on the street a few dollars feeds the cycle of poverty and dependency. With children on the street begging, parents are less inclined to find the stable and reliable work that will benefit their family into the future. But what happens when those children grow up and aren’t reeling in the money anymore? Then they and their family are out of work, out of money, and back in to the endless cycle of poverty that led to begging in the first place.
In the worst cases, child begging enables a system entrenched in abuse run by parents, child predators or traffickers. The money is taken without the child getting a cent and going straight into the pocket of someone who is making Cambodia a worse place. These children are often victims of horrific abuse that leaves a lifetime of scars.
The beautiful Waew was one of these kids. She was sold to a criminal child begging ring as a small child and was horrifically disfigured before making her way to Sunrise at the age of 10. Waew is one of the lucky ones.
Geraldine Cox AM, founder of Sunrise Cambodia comes across children who have been the victims of child begging rings on a regular basis. For her, it’s a painful situation with a difficult answer.
“Yes, giving a kid money might get them fed tonight and it’s a hard thing to refuse, but we just can’t stop this unless we all stop this together.” Said Geraldine.
“People say “oh, but you can’t help them all.” I say, “why not?” Why can’t I help them all and put a stop to this for good? The only thing holding me back is money, which is why it’s so important support organisations such as ours who are putting that money where it’s needed and not into the hands of traffickers or child abusers.”
So what can you do to save the children without aiding child begging in Cambodia?
Empower children to save themselves. That’s the best thing you can do for the children of Cambodia. Handouts on the streets seem a simple way to get food into a hungry belly at the time and it can be almost impossible to say no to those hungry eyes, but don’t sacrifice their future for a feel-good moment. Turning away from those children could be the hardest thing you will ever do, but it could also be the best. Put your money where it will be used to empower children, families and communities and make child begging a thing of the past.
$30 buys a family in a community a 50kg bag of rice that they can store away for the hungrier weeks.
$50 can provide a school kid with shoes, a uniform, a school bag and all the notebooks, pens and textbooks they need for a whole school year. This takes a lot of pressure of parents with little or no spare money and allows the children to attend school with pride.
$100 buys a kid in the community a bike that will carry them to and from school from the first day of preschool to the last day of university.
$200 dollars gives a family a loan to start their own business to support themselves, their children, and the local economy.
Donate today and take the first step towards making child begging in Cambodia a horror of the past.