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Child-beggars: Battering experiences, bitter future
More and more children enter the business of begging. In urban areas, apart from signals and temples they are found in various public places. At a very tender age, they face bitter experiences that have a big hand in shaping their future.
BITTER ARE the tears of a child: Sweeten them.
Deep are the thoughts of a child: Quiet them.
Sharp is the grief of a child: Take it from him.
Soft is the heart of a child: Do not harden it.

Pamela Glenconner.


Every day, more and more children enter the business of begging. In urban
areas, apart from signals and temples they are found in various public
places – railway stations, bus stands, market places, outside malls and
theaters, public gardens etc.

The more I see them, the more I am saddened as more and more children are
being denied their basic rights – the right to survival - to life, health,
nutrition, name and nationality, the right to development - to education,
care, leisure, recreation, the right to protection - from exploitation,
abuse, neglect and the right to participation - to expression, information,
thought and religion.

The street is their school. They have their daily lessons on the streets.
They learn to survive here. They learn to go hungry for hours, they learn to
eat whatever is shoved toward them, and they learn to take risks by jumping
signals, running after cars.

They learn the art of communication, the art of convincing, the art of
negotiation, the art of telling lies, they master different facial
expressions, they learn to pretend, they learn to cope with danger and they
learn to protect and fend for themselves.  In spite of all the hardships
that they face, they also learn to catch some lighter moments with other
fellow children.

This is their childhood. It is a pity that India, which calls itself a
welfare state and is a signatory of the United Nations Convention on
the rights of the Children (UNCRC), turns a blind eye to the ever-increasing
number of child beggars in the urban areas. Some people like me turn their
faces away and shoo them away probably because they feel as helpless as I
do. Some, who cannot bear their plight, take solace by giving in to their
demands.

The life of a child beggar is very daunting and frightful. Akbar (name
changed) shivers every time he recollects the days when he was forced to
beg. He was beaten, assaulted, tortured whenever he was not able to bring in
his daily quota of earnings. He took to pick pocketing and other petty
crimes in order to protect himself from the wrath of his dealer. He took to
smelling glue to overcome his hunger. He did not have a bath for months and
used any open space to defecate.

Fortunately, he was rescued by an NGO working for street children. “I was
lucky, since I was an orphan. Didi did not have to seek any ones permission
for taking me to their shelter. Many others continued suffering as it was
their own parents who forced them into begging.”

A recent trend of renting of children including babies for begging is
seen around urban cities. The more malnourished a baby looks, the higher is
the price. Disability too fetches a good amount. The children run around
through out the day collecting alms and hand them over to the master beggar
at the end of the day.

The master beggar in return provides for the children’s meal and hands over
the decided rent to the child’s parent. The master beggar is also
responsible for the child’s safety and has to ensure that the child is safe
from all kinds of abuse. However, according to Akbar, very often, the master
beggar himself abuses the child or earns a quick buck by letting go of this
responsibility. While most give in to the abuse and start believing that
this is life, a few strong ones use their strength to protect themselves and
learn that violence is the only way to defend themselves.

Another trend that I see is that of beggar families moving around
residential areas. While a few family members attract the attention of
residents and ask for alms, the others survey around the building to check
whether they can steal anything. They are always accompanied by children and
babies. The presence of children mainly babies increase their chances of
getting a good sum. Children accompanying such families are often beaten up
so that they look unhappy and in distress.

If this is their childhood, one can imagine what they would become as
adults. The victims of the past would become perpetrators of the future.
They would learn to bully and use their power over the vulnerable and weak,
learn to abuse, learn to lure more children in the trade, learn to steal and
learn violence.

“Children are our future,” said Jawaharlal Nehru. However, if this continues
and we do not wake up, our future will have more and more children turning
into deviant adults. The crime rate, violence, abuse will increase. Our
response to this situation would be harsh punishment to all the criminals
and deviants. We will spend more money on seizing these elements, on
discussion groups and forums, on new laws. However, little will we
acknowledge that we all have had a hand in making them the way they are.
Every time, I pass a signal or a temple, I close my eyes for I am sure to
see a small child with a running nose, tattered clothes, covered with dirt
and filth come up to me and ask for either some food or some money. On
getting zero response from me, the child moves on looking for other
potential givers leaving me with a feeling of helplessness for I cannot do
anything to change their lives.

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