One of the things I found interesting was that begging is considered human trafficking. At first this does not seem to make sense, but when you think about it, who could possibly pass up a little kid asking for money? Especially if that kid looks dirty, poorly clothed, and starved.
In our neighborhood in Sofia, there is a constant flow of young children wandering around with an adult nearby but not too close. The adult may be the child's parent, or may not be. Either way, the adult is the one who takes home the proceeds from the little beggar children. The children do not get much out of the deal. These kids are essentially enslaved to their adult caretakers and exist to get them money.
When you give money to beggar children, you are insuring that their life will not improve. They will not go to school because they are too busy begging for their so called guardian. They will remain a cute little beggars until they are no longer cute. Then they will most likely move onto something else. It may be prostitution. It may be crime. It may be that the exploited will become the exploiters. As long as people keep giving beggar children money, the cycle will continue. What seems an act of compassion is actually depriving these kids of an education and ultimately of liberty.
What can be done? I would not presume to give advice on every situation in every context, but I will tell you what I do when little kids come to me begging in Sofia.
1) Treat all beggars like people, especially the children
Listen to them. It may be they are not asking for money at all. One day a cute dirty little boy in ragged clothes saw that I was throwing out some old toys. I was actually hoping these toys would be found by one of our local dumpster divers, so I had no problem giving them to him. In exchange, he offered to take my trash to the dumpster for me. I tried to take it myself and showed him that there was nothing of value in the trash bag, but he wanted to take it anyway. I was glad I listened to what he wanted. He wanted toys and he was willing to work for them. This is not begging.
Another time a little girl about 7 years old was out with her mother. I was entering a grocery store, and she asked me to buy her alcohol. I did not give her what she wanted.
Often times they ask for money. For this, I have one response.
2) Ask to see their mom or dad
Sometimes they claim that their mom or dad is not around. This is usually a lie. The guardian is almost always nearby. They do not want to lose track of their money maker. When I track down the dad or mom or sometimes the "brother," I give them a stern talking to. I also make sure the kids know that they need an education to improve their lives. I do not give the kids money. This only makes them valuable to their owners, and continues the cycle of slavery.
And that is exactly what it is. It is slavery. These children are stuck as slaves to the adults who use them for their money making skills. This will not stop when they grow up.
I do not give them money. No money makes them valueless to their owners. If they have no value they will no longer be used in such an abusive way.
It is a complex problem, and one that I do not have a full solution to. It is a problem of society as a whole. We need to find a full solution.
This is one of the many reasons the ReachGlobal Sofia team needs more teammates. Perhaps you can help us find the solution. Perhaps you can really make a difference in the lives of these children.