Soapbox day: child beggars

There are plenty of worthwhile charitable organizations that do valuable work with orphaned and abandoned children. Give your money to them, so instead of buying drugs, you are buying school uniforms and nutritious meals.

Being a foreigner also involves hassles. I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture. Auto rickshaws slow down in front of me when I’m trying to cross the street, because obviously I’m trying to signal them. I can’t just be trying to cross the street.

I’m also a beggar magnet.

I haven’t given a rupee to a beggar since 1993, so this is complete a waste of their time unless they’re just practicing their delivery before a live audience in preparation for the next soft touch, which I don’t think they are.

I won’t even share my treats with the dog. It just encourages him.

And this is my treatise on why you shouldn’t either. Give to beggars, I mean. How you deal with your dog is your affair. But I can assure you that if you give in to those big brown eyes, he’ll keep putting on his starving face every time you try to sit down to a nice bag of really fattening potato chips,

To point out the obvious, we live in a capitalist economy. And although I’m not an absolute fan of classical economic theory—I think there are some major holes in it—I do think there is something to be said about supply and demand.

This, however, is up to you.
This, however, is up to you.

If there is no demand for a service, people stop supplying it. Unless it’s something they just enjoy doing for its own sake, like my blog. I like it. You get to read it, more or less for free, because I just like writing it. WordPress might be making a few bucks off of it, but they’re deriving their profit from both of us.

What does this have to do with begging, you ask?

Because beggars are providing a service. You may have presumed all along that this whole business was just about someone being hard up on their luck and your having a generous heart, but that is not so. Beggars here, as in many places, are often engaged in carrying out the family profession. Their parents did it. Their grandparents did it. And now they are doing it. Or they were sold, stolen, or abandoned into it as the only viable means of support. It has now become their profession and will most likely remain theirs throughout their lives, because children who beg have no opportunity or incentive to obtain any other skill that will allow them to transcend the most wretched degree of poverty. As adults, they will be able to dig ditches and not much else.

So what service are beggars providing you with? The salving of your guilty conscience for having so much more than some people have, and the ability to shift your feelings towards a more pleasant feeling of generosity.

If professional begging is not a niche you’d like in your society, then don’t encourage it in someone else’s. It’s very simple.

Except it’s not. It’s worse than that. Most of the beggars I see are small children or women with small children. They do seem to have parents, although the adults they are staying with may not be their parents. There is no way I would know. I have certainly seen orphaned and abandoned children beg as well.

But most child beggars aren’t just supporting themselves through their labor. They are supporting their families or they are supporting a beggarmaster. There are several implications of this. One of them is that a child who begs does not have the opportunity to attend school. They are working all day, and sometimes late into the night as well. The cash a child beggar needs to take in during the day goes well beyond the few rupees he might need for his own sustenance. There is no time for studies.

What might be difficult to understand is that begging is a form of labour, and it is every bit as dangerous and limiting for children to work all day at it as it is for them to make carpets.

I also suspect that this means there is a lucrative market for beggar children, just as there is one for children in the sex industry. But I am hoping this practice has died down somewhat, given the glut of unattended children in most major cities.

On the other hand, when this isn’t the case, and the children are working for themselves, begging leaves them flush with cash at the end of their 16-hour work days. And, as you might guess, children aren’t the best financial managers for themselves. They aren’t investing all of this cash in 401ks, nor are they hiding it under their mattresses. They are spending it. And you probably won’t like what they spend it on.

The infant may or may not be a relative. She may be nothing more than a borrowed prop.
The infant may or may not be a relative. She may be nothing more than a borrowed prop.

Street life here, as elsewhere, involves far more serious temptations than junk food and too many toys. Orphaned and abandoned children who live by begging spend their nights drunk or stoned out of their minds. I don’t want you to imagine wild adolescent parties. I want you to imagine five and six year olds doing this, because they are.

Further, because of the low status of begging in any society, child beggars develop a sense of themselves as people who live outside of the normal bounds of society, who can never fit in or contribute in a meaningful way, and this life is the only one available to them. So this destroys their hope for themselves and the future as well.

Don’t do it.

There are plenty of quality charitable organizations working to help children and destitute adults. Give to them


Niceness is Nothing More than a Long Con

I watched a documentary yesterday. It’s really very good. You should watch it too.

It’s about Britain’s child beggars, many of whom are Romanian Roma, and many of whom were trafficked into Britain for the benefit of organized crime bosses with the complicity of the children’s parents.

A child beggar in the UK can earn up to 100 pounds a day. Quite a tidy sum when you think about it, and if you add in the ill-gotten gains of benefits fraud, it makes for a very nice living for those at the top of this system.

Children from the same communities are also being exploited as thieves.
Children from the same communities are also being exploited as thieves.

But it got me to thinking about the children brought up in this system, for whom dishonesty and trickery is a way of life, because that’s in part how I was raised. Different kinds of exploitation of children can look somewhat alike, even if the form of exploitation is different. I’m not even sure if the exploitation involved needs to be economic to function similarly: Meeting someone’s sick need for sadistic power within a family or ritual abuse ring (what Kenneth Lanning calls a multidimensional child sex ring) might work much the same.

At any rate, the view of the world it creates is one in which everyone is out for themselves in some way, and everyone is potentially exploitative–because exploitation is how this world works. People are there to be used for whatever benefit they can provide. It isn’t explicitly about harm, but simply a disregard for the rights or integrity of others, and a failure to engage deeply or if at all in mutual, caring relationships. People are often harmed because no one’s well-being is taken into account when decisions are made. If something hurts you in the process of all of this, well, I’m sorry. That’s just how life is. Or that is how life is within exploitative groups.

It is a selfish, competitive, and brutal world to grow up in. There are rarely clear-cut victims or perpetrators. What you have instead are a few people at the very top who are most certainly perpetrators, and many more people at the bottom who are most certainly victims, but the majority of individuals who occupy this world are both victims and perpetrators. They survive by submitting to the exploitation of someone with more power while also exploiting someone with less power.

There is no real relief from exploitation. Escape exploitation from one person, and someone else will be happy to step up and take his place. Your only hope is to align yourself with whoever is most powerful within this system, so that you can reap the greatest benefits and garner the most protection.

In the United States, gangs are increasingly involved in human trafficking.
In the United States, gangs are increasingly involved in human trafficking.

In the world of sex trafficking, a sex worker can become a bottom girl and gain status and protection in that way. Romanian Roma women can marry into the family of a crime boss. But that’s the best there is.

We see these groups as a unique underworld phenomenon, but when you grow up in that world, you assume that that’s how everyone works: All this talk about love and mutual respect, honesty, and integrity–that’s just to sound good. Kindness is one con among many.

Others outside the group are assumed to be in rival groups that function in much the same way as the one you are in. Leaving the group that is exploiting you doesn’t land you in freedom. Instead, it lands you in hostile territory, where groups that care about you even less–and where you have no status or power or allegiances–will eat you alive.

In the cult I grew up in, this point was hammered home repeatedly. Although most members had no knowledge or connection to the sex trafficking ring that exploited me, they set the stage for it perfectly. “Outsiders” as we called them, were judgmental, fickle, uncaring. They only looked for what might be in for them. As soon as you had a problem, stopped being entertaining, or had a different idea, they dropped you. Just like that. According to them, the rest of the world behaved exactly as they did–only worse.

In a practical sense, what this means is that escape from an exploitative group can seem both impossible and pointless. On the one hand, there is nothing better to flee to and, on the other, the world outside of this group is actively dangerous–more dangerous than the group that is exploiting you in the first place.

Of course, if you’re really smart, you may realize that that isn’t how the rest of the world works, but that brings its own problem: will anyone outside of your own group ever accept you? Will you ever be anything else but tainted, criminal, illegal, immoral, bad? It seems doubtful, especially if what you did in the group to survive was illegal or deeply immoral. And that’s not really a fun way of looking at things either.

But I wasn’t even that smart, and I didn’t figure it out. Not for a long time. And it was an even longer time before I understood that niceness was something more than a long con.