Our travels throughout the world have allowed us to see some incredible destinations and learned fascinating facts about people and cultures around the world. We love meeting locals when we travel, but there is one interaction that is never pleasant – child begging. 

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Sadly, it happens more often than we’d like. We’ll be walking around a city, and children will come up to us and start a conversation. First, it seems like harmless small talk, but sadly more often than not, a friendly chat quickly turns into an ask for money, food, supplies, or an attempt to sell us something. 

How to handle child beggers
Woman and children begging inside the Agra Fort, India
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It’s heartbreaking to encounter child beggars, anywhere in the world. But the reasons behind child begging are often more complex than we can imagine. 

Why Are There Child Beggars?

There are a variety of reasons that children end up on the streets begging

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  • The family that the child comes from is so impoverished that the parents are willing to send them out as street beggars to collect money from tourists.
  • The children on the street know that they can sell the items they get while begging (most commonly school supplies) and make enough money for the day to justify not going to school.
Kids in the Cambodian countryside
Kids in the Cambodian countryside
  • The child is orphaned or has otherwise been separated from their home/family and have been taken in by someone who forces them to go out and beg.
  • The children are on their own and use the money earned from street begging to buy drugs for themselves or their guardians.
  • If you see a child that has a physical disability (a missing limb, eye, ear, etc.), the child may be a part of a “begging mafia– a group of criminals that use children to drum up money and supplies. The leaders of these mafias hurt the children and leave them with permanent disabilities to play into the sympathy of tourists. In many countries, thousands of children will disappear from their homes every year and resurface as a part of these “begging mafias”. They’ve most likely been kidnapped, sold into the mafia, and are forced to become professional beggars and collect money and supplies for their leaders. 

All of these reasons are terrible and are sure signs of a larger problem of poverty.

Without understanding the bigger issues and the causes for child beggars, it’s easy to give a couple of dollars and feel good about helping a child in need. 

The Consequences of Giving Money to Beggars

The truth is, our actions in such situations have more consequences than we could ever anticipate. So it’s important that we don’t use our good intentions to further the vicious cycle of dependency.

Kids on the beach in Goa, India
Kids on the beach in Goa, India

Here are just a few negative effects of giving anything to child beggars:

  • Giving any sort of material item to child beggars – school supplies, clothes, toys, etc. – makes begging into a sort of game for these kids, like trick or treating. They’re going to continue to ask more people for more stuff because they will keep receiving it.
  • If the child’s only interaction with foreigners is asking for money/supplies and receiving them, they reduce any potential relationship with a tourist to a transaction. 
  • Giving gifts to kids directly can undermine the authority of their parents, and cause the kids to respect their parents less.
  • Encouraging child begging may exasperate the problem and encourage children to continue begging and to become professional beggars.
  • As a tourist, anything you give the child can be looked at as a short term investment. And most of the time, there are organizations in the area working on long-term ways to not only temporarily help these kids, but to pull them out of the cycle of begging and poverty. Tourists often wonder how much do beggars make, but the answer is unclear.
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Local girl strolling along the river in Kerala Backwaters, India

How to Say No to Child Beggars

Saying no can be uncomfortable, difficult, and downright sad. If after encountering these kids you feel an overwhelming desire to help, there are definitely ways to give back to the community that don’t involve giving directly to children beggars. 

Do a little research and figure out what organizations in the area are trying to better the lives of the children in the community. Get in touch with them, and ask what they really need – not just what you think they might need. Some organizations would love for you to bring backpacks full of school supplies, while others would benefit from a donation to one of their programs. 

How to handle child beggars
Child beggars in Cambodia. Photo courtesy of USAID U.S. Agency for International Development  via Flickr CC

If you’re looking for your travel experiences to be completely sustainable, it makes sense that you’d want to help these kids have a better life and not become professional beggars. But make sure to take the time to really think about where your money/supplies are going, and make the best decision for everyone involved!

Have you encountered child beggars? What did you do? Do you have any other ideas on dealing with street beggars on your travels?

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