When traveling to low-income countries, you are likely to come across children begging for money on the streets. Although you may feel guilty for not giving them something immediately, you must also keep in mind the social consequences of your action, some of which are listed here.
Look at the picture of the girl closely. Imagine you are in Morocco. The girl finds you and starts begging. She follows you for half a mile while staring at you with her neither-happy-nor-sad beautiful face. Would you give her money? Would you give her food? Would you simply walk away? I gave her some candy, only to repent.
A couple of minutes later, I walked into a travel agency with an unrelated enquiry. To my surprise, I saw a government poster asking tourists not to give money, food, or other items to begging children. Begging is a chronic issue in Morocco the poster explained, and the government is developing programmes to reduce it. By giving money to the girl, I had hindered the efforts of the government.
Colombia, my country of origin, also has issues with begging. Begging by children or with the assistance of children may be a very profitable, yet illegal activity. It is so profitable that professional beggars rent out small children from others for around USD5 per day to beg with them in their arms. Others impose money quotas to their children and don’t allow them to rest until the have earned enough by begging. The practice is common in some tourist areas, as tourists are more likely to give out larger amounts of money than locals.
What can you do? Many countries have institutions that try to help these children; for example: The Niños de los Andes Foundation, “helps homeless children by defending their rights and helping them reintegrate into society.” Their motto is “Don’t give them fish. Teach them to fish.” Next time you travel and a child begs, don’t give them money. Instead donate to these institutions. In some countries, you can donate using ATMs; in others, you can donate in grocery stores at the checkout. If in doubt, ask a local. You won’t be sorry as I was.