Don't Fund their Future.
Updated: Sep 1
In collaboration with the Backpacker Bible- a Responsible Travel Guide, I have written a short piece in relation to the prevalent issue of child beggars within many South and South East Asian countries; particularly within India, and its correlation to child trafficking.
It’s inevitable when travelling to many Asian countries that you will be approached by individuals begging for money; those in particular being children. Within this article, I want to focus on India and the issues revolving around child exploitation, human trafficking and our potential contribution to both.
Countless times during my trips to India, I was confronted with the pressure of begging children asking for small change so they could buy food for their family. And countless times, I gave in to my moral conscious and gave these children what small change I had.
However, what was once considered as my moral conscious, can now be considered as a naive and mislead set of intentions; as I had no idea how destructive my choices were in conceding to these children's wishes.
So, before we begin... let’s set the scene:
You are approached by a mother with a sleeping baby attached to her hip. She is asking for you to help her, by purchasing some powered milk formula so she can feed her starving baby. In another circumstance, you also interact with a small child who is barefoot, dirty and wearing torn clothes. They too, are asking for your help, this time it’s money for food.
So, what do you do?
Morally, you feel not only obliged to help, because you, a fortunate traveller can of course afford the small request they are making. And ethically, you of course, do not want to be heartless, and the choice to fulfil these requests is the most decent thing to do out of all your options.
But this is where the narrative of these situations become extremely delicate and complicated.
These initial thought processes are a very common response. Of course, when confronted with these uncomfortable circumstances, we want to help in any way we can (unless you truly are a heartless wretch …). But truthfully what we are seeing within these scenarios is one of Asia’s largest and smartest scamming tricks; one that is targeted at tourists and has worked extremely well for many years. And although we may mean well, and our intentions are nothing more than wanting to help these people by engaging with their requests and wanting to alleviate a part of the struggle they are feeling, what we are really doing when we reciprocate with these encounters, is more detrimental and serious than a lot of people are aware of.
The reality is, that approximately 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked annually across the globe; with nearly half of this number making up the statistic of trafficked children. With these incredibly high figures, human trafficking has now been considered as the third largest profitable industry in the world. Reportedly, is has been estimated that trafficking generates a profit of $32 billion every year. Human trafficking is one of the hardest crimes to track and investigate, which has led to accurate data being significantly hard to obtain. However, it is estimated that there are approximately 20 to 30 million people being enslaved around the world today; 1.2 million of this number, being children.
Within India, child trafficking is a serious and prevalent issue. It is estimated that 135,000 children are trafficked each year in India alone. Trafficked children are used for cheap or unpaid labour, begging, organ harvesting, forced marriage, prostitution, as well as illegal adoption. Inarguably, trafficking exposes children to exploitation, abuse, violence and many other development issues.
This is where our role is crucial in being aware and responsible; not only as travellers, but also as human beings. The exploitational use of children as beggars is an act that involves interactions with individuals who are unaware of the process; travellers, like you and me.
Begging is a huge issue within India, not only as it is a highly visible issue of poverty, but also because it carries major implications behind the scenes. Currently, the Indian National Human Rights Commission has reported there to be 400,000 beggars within India. Although considered illegal, with such high figures, authorities have done very little to address this issue.
Whilst this issue brings about a number of concerning detriments for children, this problem goes far deeper than issue of just perpetuating dependency and encouraging children to stay out of school through the incentives of earning money. When we delve deeper into these issues, we see a number of human rights abuses such as organised illegal traffic rings; otherwise known as ‘organised begging’.
Organised begging has been considered as one of the most visible forms of human trafficking to date; and is mainly funded and enabled through unaware travellers simply wanting to help. According to the Indian National Human Rights Commission, approximately 40,000 children are abducted in India every year for the purpose of organised begging. With such a figure, it’s then reported that half a million people engage with beggars each year; continuing the cycle of supply and demand.
In addition to this, children are often subjected to violent environments. Similar to what many people may have witnessed on the cinema screen through ‘Slum Dog Millionaire’..... for once, the truth doesn’t stray too far from Hollywood. Criminal gangs are paid to cripple children so they are seen as more ‘emotionally connecting' with tourists. Children have limbs forcibly removed in the hope that tourists are more willing to interact with them as a result. The idea that ‘the more severely disabled a child is, the more valuable they are’, has resulted in serious violent criminal activities against children. This is not an uncommon occurrence and is something that is extremely evident on the streets of India. As a result, it's now more important than ever to know how to respond to these encounters, as the potential enablers.
Besides begging for money there is also another scam very common within India and various other South East Asian countries. One that involves children asking tourists to buy milk power to feed their siblings. This scam is a money-making strategy that exploits the child nether the less. Within this process, the child will take the willing tourist to a specific vendor to purchase the requested milk powder. Once the milk is purchased and the tourist has left, the child will the return the bought formula and receive a sum of the profit made through the purchase; whilst the vendor keeps a larger amount. Again, creating cycles of dependency and exposing vulnerable children to many other risks and threats.
So, after all of that, what can we do?! It’s inevitable that if you do travel to these destinations you will be approached by beggars. Many are persistent and have a variety of methods to interact and emotionally connect with you. And the reality is, even though we are presented with this alarming information and statistics, these children and others involved in begging scams are in fact victims of exploitation and stuck in a cycle of extreme poverty. As a result, it’s hard not to deny these people something that can be considered so small to us.
However, when looking at the bigger picture, if we viewed this ethical dilemma in such a way, this harmful cycle would never be broken and children in generations to come would also continue to be vulnerable and subjected to exploitation and abuse. What may seem like a difficult choice in ignoring the pleas and constant requests from these children, has the ability to save lives in the future. It’s about knowing our impact and the extent to which it will affect a population of people.
So how can we contribute without encouraging greed and continuing the cycle of poverty?
The best alternative to this would be to find a reputable charity or NGO and donate your money to these organisations; such as Save the Children and Friends International. Action Against Trafficking & Sexual Exploitation of Children, India (ATSEC) is specifically an Indian based NGO who are committed to ensure women and children are protected from trafficking and sexual exploitation. Another brilliant organisation, and one that the Backpacker Bible is an ambassador of, is ChildSafe – located in Cambodia.
ChildSafe have provided a brilliant '7 Tip Guide' on how to be a child safe traveller. Although primarily focused for travel within Cambodia, each step is relevant to any destination of travel and can be followed by everyone.
For more information, please visit:
It is also important to remind ourselves that such circumstances and figures are not dissimilar within many other South and South East Asian countries; these statistics are not just unique to India. Next time you travel, remember how important it is to do your research and to know your impact. Be aware of your influence. Responsible tourism is the key here.
When we know better, we can do better.
Don’t fund their future. Vote with your money.
For more information on responsible travel tips, visit: