(Varun - Dream India Team Volunteer based out of India has sent this wonderful blog on the eve of the campaign)
Pundit Nehru’s legacy
Some people die and just fade away, some people leave behind a legacy that lives on and on. Pundit Nehru belongs to the latter category. He loved children so much that his birthday, November 14th, is celebrated as Children’s Day in India every year. In every child, he envisioned a bright and zestful file that will carry the nation on towards the path of glory. He was a passionate advocate of compulsory primary education for all children and also launched initiatives like free food and milk in schools so that the problem of malnutrition can be tackled.
The battles of this great visionary did not go waste as many of the above schemes are being implemented in India right now and there has been a huge improvement in the standard of education that poor children are receiving today. Mid-day meal schemes are hugely popular and Sarva Shiksha Abyhaan (SSA – meaning ‘Education for all’) is creating a huge impact across the nation. I have personally experienced school officials admitting poor unschooled children even during the middle of an academic year, thereby proving their commitment to the cause.
Child begging – The methods and effects
But despite all these positive developments, there are still grey areas in the system. There are still areas where political will is lacking and children are left the ultimate sufferers. The country is developing, people’s incomes are rising by the day and people across the country are racing with each other in order to earn more, lead better lives. The neglect of rural areas by the government is rapidly causing extreme migratory tendencies that see literally thousands of people pour into our metropolitan cities with the hope of seeing a better lifestyle by earning more money.
Well, the thought per se is good and reflects the confidence and enterprise of those who migrate. But what these people do not realize is that this is a double-edged sword and can cut both ways. Most of those moving into cities fall again into the grasp of poverty, and lose any kind of self respect whatsoever. Under such conditions – in a new city, with meager-paying jobs, without even a proper home – people are forced to accept whatever means of income that come their way and one evil way of earning that is widely practiced is by encouraging their children to beg!
Child begging has been a commonly adopted practice in many parts of India for a very long time. Outside temples, at traffic intersections, in open spaces like parks and beaches, places of entertainment and many more such places. Kids are taught how to talk in a pitiful tone and also at times to grab hold of body parts of people in order to create sympathy. You will quite easily experience a child grabbing your leg or arm while travelling in a train, patting at its stomach to indicate lack of good, and asking for money or food. In fact many a time, the family lets the child go early in the morning so that he or she can beg for food and finish off breakfast.
The causes are many. One cannot pinpoint at just a few reasons for this evil prevailing in India. Lack of Political will is topmost, according to me. There are a lot of laws that prevent the use of children as beggars but sadly none of them are being enforced. Also rural development is not being given as much priority as it should be, so sets off migration and leads to child begging.
One very inadvertent, though important way in which we, the general public, participate in promoting this habit is by not denying alms to these children. It is simple logic, without supply there would be no demand and similarly, without the general public entertaining these youth, there would be no chance for them to continue this profession. How many times would we have fallen for the innocent face that peers through the car windows or for the ever popular sight of a girl carrying a baby on her hips and begging for food for both herself and the child.
It is surprising how many well-to-do people land in cars outside the Sai Mandir in Kandivali, Mumbai and hand out food and drinks to children there. They do not realize the effects of what they do, apart from the stupid notion that they would go to heaven if they 'help' poor children in such a way. But the repercussions of their act are devastating. Children do not attend school properly as they will miss out on the sweet meats on offer. Parents are content in making their children be part of the big queue to beg for food.
What this habit effectively does is, apart from providing short term benefits like some money for the family and some leftover food for the kids, wean the kids away from school and severely limit its capabilities to think creatively or plan for its future. He or she becomes accustomed to begging and hence would not be interested in doing anything else. The very concept of ‘working’ for a living is lost upon the child. And that can be a very dangerous thing, considering that India is one of the few young nations in the world, with a low average age of population.
An empty mind is a devil's workshop and this is precisely what happens when children are left idle and to beg. One things leads to another and a few bad habits picked up here and there while loitering around with friends, lead on to gambling, to drinking alcohol and smoking and even to the consumption of narcotics. These are sure shot ways to disaster.
Tackling the menace
The government can obviously do a lot but at the same time if we, the general public, refrain from encouraging these children, then there would be a considerable change. There are immeasurable ways to help a poor child otherwise. Dream India volunteers have interacted with a group of such children in Mumbai, and even started a center in Kandivali for them. You can read about the efforts in this blog (http://varun-dreamindia.blogspot.com/2007/06/games-children-play.html ) and also subsequent blog posts in the same site.
Instead of giving a rupee to a kid, call him aside, talk to him, and try to thrust the importance of education or other activities like playing, on him or his parents. Or if the situation seems to be in a real bad state, talk to a local NGO that deals with child education of street children. There are hundreds of such NGOs in India and hence should not be difficult to find.
Or play some interesting yet informative game with him. Talk about National bird or animal etc and hold his attention for some time. That time that you spend with him itself would go a long way in his life.
DI has launched a mega initiative in Pune called the Anti child begging campaign (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s46zYnFS-WM). Started as road side campaigns last year, it has now grown into a mini movement in the city and we have conducted many more such camps since then. We invite people to visit our stalls and talk to them about the various ways in which we can stop child begging in the country, and also take in their ideas and views about the same.
And during Children's Day this year, we will step up pace on our campaign and launch stalls in five place in Pune. This mega drive will be supported by Radio Mirchi, CDAC, and other media as well. We hope that people's attitudes towards a child begging, change and that we all play a more proactive role in providing for today's youth, tomorrow's leaders!