You know the movie Slumdog Millionaire? Enormously popular in South Asia, it highlights the sufferings of poor people in India. While most of the sufferings shown in the film may seem normal, Slumdog exposes a very important fact which we, unfortunately, seem oblivious to.
The film shows an impoverished Hindu village being razed in a communal riot. Two boys and one girl see their parents killed and run away from the place. They end up living and working in a landfill, where they dig through the enormous pile of garbage looking for things to sell. This is a common occupation for children in the world who have no other way of making a living. Their work contributes to recycling and to clearing garbage dumps and landfills. But it is also terribly unsafe and unhealthy. Landfills fester with diseases and give off toxic methane. Workers are very vulnerable to cuts and injuries. Since the poor who work thus are deprived of basic amenities, they have no medical care and little nourishment. Children, without shoes and as young as three, comprise most landfill workers. Shifting through landfills also requires enormous physical effort which is too much for little children.
It is deplorable for human beings to have to live like this.
Our three slumdog characters seemingly get rescued from misery in the dump when some rich-looking guy picks them up. He takes the kids to a strange place where the three witness another child being purposely blinded. The three children run away but the girl is recaptured. Several years later, one of the boys, now a teenager, comes back to the area where he learns the girl was made into a prostitute and her virginity will be sold. The boy encounters the same blinded kid who is now a beggar making money by singing in the streets. Because people are sympathetic to disabled people, a blind singer tends to make more money than one which is not blind. Therefore, the kid was blinded so he could make good money.
It seems the South Asians have not at all picked up on the obvious implications of one of the most important plot points in the movie. The entire reason the horrific crime of blinding the child happened was because doing so would result in people giving more money to the child out of utterly ignorant sympathy. Therefore, the people who give money to beggars support this massive crime against humanity.
I have a message for all of those in India, Pakistan, and elsewhere who support the crime graphically captured in Slumdog. In the developing world, we step out in the street and are hounded by a lot of beggars. We just give them money which they put in their pocket. Since law enforcement is so poor, we have no idea where the money is going. Many times, those beggars are disabled children. We try to help them because of our ingrained notion of helping human beings. But by giving money to them, we are ruining their lives beyond imagination.
In poor countries, children are made to beg on the streets. There are criminal gangs who have children in their possession and exploit them. The money they make goes to the gangs, and is not for the children’s upkeep. Sometimes, the contractors own the children themselves and sometimes they hire the children from poor families by telling them the children will be kept an eagle eye on while they beg on the street. Because people tend to give more money to beggars who are disabled or disfigured or suffer from some other kind of unfortunate condition, well…. I do not need to say more.
The correct thing to do, therefore, is not to give them pieces of paper to help them, but to directly give them the things currency is used for buying, especially food. Giving them food to eat, clothes to wear, other kinds of things to use will directly uplift their standards of living. Of course, there is the fact that the contractors will try to resell the stuff. It can be prevented by telling the child to consume whatever food you give him on the spot. Open the carton of juice before you hand it to the child. Twist open the cap of bottled water. If giving the child a sunscreen, let him wipe his skin clean with a wet wipe you provide and then squeeze a portion of the sun screen on the palm of his hand and instruct him to rub it over the exposed parts of his body. When giving an orange or a banana, peel it. When giving a can, open it. As for non-consumable items, well, one can possibly make them difficult to sell, such as putting stains on a piece of clothing or tearing the cover of a book. One should also give toys. Toys are important to a child’s upbringing and are commonly discarded because one outgrows them. So, take your outgrown toys and give them to street kids. People often give away discarded stuff to a charitable organization which collects them. i suggest instead give away your old clothes, old toys, old books, and other things directly to beggars and street people.
Giving money is because of laziness and ignorance, and it is both these traits which are ruining the world. We need to bring change, and it starts at home. We should take the initiative ourselves individually. Of course, we also need to mobilize people to persuade them to feed the children, not the crime against them.
There are many ways to prod people to adopt this behaviour. Firstly, we raise awareness and expose the truth behind child begging so that people will know of the horrors that are going on and how they are contributing to it. If everyone knows how beggars are controlled by thugs, then giving money to beggars will cause moral revulsion.
Deeply investigating the lives of the street children will bring to light the extreme misery they face, which will move people. Also, giving food to children will elicit an immediate happy response than giving money. When I give children something to eat, I always see their faces light up with happiness. Seeing the children consuming food and being happy can give instant moral gratification.
By doing this, the future of not just individual street children but even the country they belong to will be bettered. It is like suspending a string in water and constantly adding sugar as the water evaporates. After some time, a beautiful sugar crystal forms. The same goes with the children of the world. People must realize that if they make some effort and take care of the street children in such an easy way, the fruits of their labour may later manifest wonderfully.
I suggest the formation of social relationships between the well-to-do people and street children. If this happens, a lot of confidence will be given to the children. The social relationships can be used for educating the children as well. One may educate them while waiting at a traffic signal or give them educational materials to utilize on their own. For example, when child beggars come, give them pencils, pens, paper, things like that. One activity I suggest is to ask a street beggar if he or she can read. If it turns out she can, then give her books or other kinds of texts.
Giving them money can also serve as a motivation for studying; here is how it goes. Ask the street beggar whether she can read. One can ask her to read a newspaper or ask her awareness questions such as the name of the Prime Minister. How much money is given to the beggar depends on how well he/she does on the test. This means that the more educated a beggar is, the more he or she will receive money. Therefore, contractors will have an incentive to educate the children instead of maiming them.
So, people of the poor countries everywhere, keep the cash in your wallet and give out an orange, a banana, an apple, a pencil, toothpaste, and anything else that will feed the child and not the crime against him.