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Child Beggars

I’d like to discuss this article by Slate Magazine in which Jillian Keenan discussed the problem of child beggars in third world countries. Her thesis is that giving money to children who beg – particularly the disabled ones – is actually making living conditions much much worse because many of these kids are actually working for crime syndicates who kidnap them at a very young age and force them to play on the sympathies of passing tourists.

“The reasons to never, ever give to child beggars,” Keenan asserts, is that “organized begging is one of the most visible forms of human trafficking—and it’s largely financed and enabled by good-hearted people who just want to help.”

And she’s not wrong. Research indicates that children in third-world countries are forced to beg for money by a wide variety of different groups. Yes, they are often the victims of various criminal cartels, but the research also shows that legitimate authority figures also abuse their children in this way. In some cases, religious teachers or even the child’s own parents take part in this form of exploitation. And the children are often beaten if they fail to make an acceptable profit. Worst of all, many of these kids are maimed because disabled children do a better job of drawing on our sympathies.

The study I’ve just quoted lists poverty as one of the root causes of organized begging. This should be a surprise to no one, as many of us have known for years that poverty is a form of structural violence, and that any number of depravities arise when human beings are forced to live in such conditions. What interests me, however, is Keenan’s conclusion.

Don’t give money to street beggars.

Let’s review the underlying logic here. “Criminals use kidnapped children as beggars because they recognize such children as a lucrative source of income. Therefore, if we take money out of the equation, the incentive to use children in this way will be gone and the problem behaviour will stop.”

Anyone who has followed my blog should recognize this as a microcosm of the Resource Based Economy argument. Money inevitably leads to corruption; remove money from the equation, and you minimize the corruption. Anyone who agrees with Keenan on this point ought to consider whether the argument is valid in a broader context. I happen to believe it is.

I have discussed before, on this blog, that problems like poverty are technical problems that can be solved with intelligent resource management. As I’ve discussed here, humans are malleable creatures, capable of a wide range of behaviour. The argument that human beings are inherently selfish creatures and that the deprivation we see is a consequence of hardwired selfish behaviour is a myth. Rather, this system reinforces selfish behaviour. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that says as inequality goes up, so do a large number of social problems.

That being the case, it behooves us to reconsider the basic premise of our society. Much of what we do is predicated on the idea that there is simply not enough stuff – food, material goods, resources – to go around, but as I’ve argued before, that is simply untrue. So if we have the capacity to make all the living essentials available to everyone for free – and if failing to do so results in situations where children are used as slaves and deliberately maimed just to make a profit – then why are we still wringing our hands about this? Shouldn’t the right choice be obvious?


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