There is no denying that it is common to see kids out begging on the street when you travel through Southeast Asia; there are differences within this issue that vary from country to country - city to city.
The key is that no matter how hard you try, the problem of children begging or kids working on the street is highly complex and often dangerous to interfere with. I hope this article might offer some comfort and advice to you as you explore the developing world on how you may respond or feel about it.
“I dream for a world which is free of child labour, a world in which every child goes to school.
A world in which every child gets his rights”.
It is certainly human nature to want to help, many of the children live in such desperate situations, so one can hardly be blamed for giving them a dollar or two. I agree that walking past children sitting on the sidewalk begging you to help them is devastating and we just want to reach out with compassion and unrelenting support.
I have read about organised begging and trust that the professionals working on the ground in these areas are the experts in this field and that my support is better off going towards helping them help others. Supporting those who work so hard to bring these families out of poverty must be a more viable option for long-term change than funding the cycle of poverty. The reality is; handing cash to children is not beneficial.
So, considering all this, what can you do when you see a child begging on the street? The main scenario you will see in the developing world is children selling cheap items to tourists. This can include books, postcards, friendship bracelets, flowers and other souvenirs from the region. As hard as it may be, don't purchase items from the children on the street.
These kids are commonly working for someone else. The children are not protected, they are not in school and they are vulnerable to this ongoing cycle. I often engage with the children by smiling back and saying 'hello' but I try my best to avoid giving into what they have for sale by reminding myself of the bigger picture of this issue.
Always ask yourself; why am I giving money to this child? There are common tourist scams that use children to appeal to tourists. Children and babies are commonly used to encourage tourists to go with them as part of the tourist scam where children have been taught by the adults what to say and do.
Street children do not benefit from their involvement in these scams and for it to stop occurring, tourists need to be aware of what scams are common to the area they are in so that they can best be avoided. Check social media or backpacking forums to see if any new insights regarding scams have been posted.
It is common to see flyers or posters around town to help raise awareness of responsible tourism in the region you are in. Long-term thinking can be difficult when faced with the reality of children who are suffering but it is better than short-term help.
The short-term issue is a thriving labour force of children who are easily exposed to threats when they work on the streets in tourist hot-spots such as trafficking and sexual abuse. This situation of 'begging children' is complicated because it can be hard to differentiate from those who are working on the street and those who are independently begging.
I have always offered my spare change to families or individuals who are sleeping rough, I also give meals or bottled water to families I can see are desperate for immediate support. If you are concerned about the welfare of a child, you can report it to local organisations who can assist in the case.
It really pays to listen to your instinct because of course, we want to be able to help where we can. The main point is that there is a network of children working and suffering in a devastating cycle of poverty, and by supporting this industry, you are not helping these kids as individuals. I like to offer food parcels or bags of rice, school supplies and medical supplies to local organisations in replace of cash donations.
Any help I have offered has always been appreciated, Khmer people are very accepting of this support and are always happy to show you around or give you a record of your donation. If you are unsure what to buy, visit the organisation in person or check out the website as they often have a wish list where they note what items they need the most.
I have spent time delivering clean drinking water to rural villages, provided medical supplies to a local rural hospital clinic, donated books to a classroom at a local Kindergarten and cooked a meal with a local family, all of which are incredibly rewarding.
Another way to help is to purchase all these items from a local family or a market seller instead of bringing over items from home. These items are always for sale in the local markets and this supports the community in numerous ways by empowering everyone to participate in helping each other.
Show your support for these children by visiting a local training restaurant, take a cooking class or share a meal there with other travellers, visit the local cafes for a coffee or enjoy a day at the spa where locals are trained in hair, beauty and massage.
There are also accommodation options that support child safe practices and train their staff to be aware of child sex tourism or trafficking risks and these options help to make the entire community a safer place. It is incredibly difficult to say no to a child who is begging, t