As we pace through life, sprinting through numerous people and places, we are often met with strange intervals where for a split second, life pauses and we are forced to witness the harsh ways of the world. Amidst the rush hour, endless traffic and red lights on our daily pursuits of the 9 to 5 grind, we tend to overlook these people; The people who only feature as a number in the poverty index once in ten years. The ones with disheveled hair and malnourished bodies knocking endlessly at our windows, peeking inside the cars hoping to sneak a look into the lives where every day isn’t a struggle to remain alive.
Begging in India is one of the most crucial social issues which explicitly reveals the failure of the state to provide basic amenities for the poor. Apart from the many multifaceted factors such as the rackets, scams and frauds associated with the begging system in India, I would want to draw special attention to the trafficking of children into forceful begging. Child begging controlled by insidious cartels and mafias operating unchecked in different parts of the country have resulted in forcing more than three lakh children into begging as per the 2011 census of India.
Most children are pushed into the modern bondage of begging due to parental poverty, drug abuse or organized crimes units, the primary targets being the homeless, children from migrant families, slum children etc. According to a report by the Indian National Human Rights Commission approximately 40,000 children are abducted in India every year, which means one child goes missing every eight minutes.
For a meager amount of change, these young children are often maimed, injured and handicapped to arouse a sense of pity. They are victims of severe physical, emotional and mental trauma as they are bullied with physical violence, drug abuse and psychological coercion. One of the major reasons that force children into child begging in India is coercion by parents/guardians and drug addiction. As per a cross-national research conducted by Anti-Slavery international, the primary reasons for child begging across the world are drug addiction, parental coercion, organised crime and religious leaders.
To be able to survive each day, children who are forced to beg spend most of their childhood soldiering through the sour reality of poverty. From begging to rag picking to peddling pens and balloons on the street, they make do in a state of destitution. At an age when they should be playing, these little ones are forced to work and beg to secure their next meal and yet they can’t help but gleam with excitement at the sight of dancing balloons. For a social issue that affects more than three lakh children across the country, the deplorable condition of forced child beggars is hardly addressed.
Even though international and local level NGOs and shelter homes such as Save the children, Ratna Nidhi Charitable Trust, I-India, SOS Children’s Villages of India, Smile foundation etc. are actively working to improve the lives of these young children trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty and exploitative labour, it is imperative that individual responsibility is asserted to become the change we wish to see in our society.
From volunteering at a centre for children, donating to charities to organising a fundraiser, there are a plethora of ways to play our part in ensuring that these children have the access to basic necessities, a chance at receiving an authentic development which will allow them to lead a life that values their inherent dignity and value. Here at World Youth Alliance, we have the Human Dignity Curriculum. At the national level, it is the responsibility of the state and the concerned authorities to foster the adequate conditions towards creating a society where people have the access to basic amenities without having to beg for them.
These children forced into begging and child labour may have young eyes but beneath the innocence lies experiences of hardships and survival, which many of us are fortunate enough to not suffer even in a lifetime. Their bare feet and tiny hands are not enough to carry the burden of poverty all by themselves, leaving it to us to act instead of standing at the side lines as witnesses to a system of scarcity and impoverishment and work towards creating a society where the dignity of the human person is recognized and valued.
Published: March 26, 2021
Written by Adwitya Tajena, a current program development intern for World Youth Alliance Asia Pacific.
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