Sometimes ‘Not Giving’ is the Right Thing to Do: Sahil Shah, Volunteer, Child Rights and You

The other day I was sitting in a taxi to go to work. I was reading the newspaper to increase my awareness about the atrocities carried out by Hosni Mubarak in Egypt for the past 30 years. At that moment, a hand started knocking

on the window. It was a small girl, carrying a younger child, asking for spare change so she could buy a meal. What did I do? I turned my head away from her. She knocked again, but I did not budge. She went away, and soon I forgot about her. I did not give anything to the girl is, because I believe that one should not give alms to children as it does not benefit them. But why did I forget her, or the situation? That’s because, ignorance is bliss, and I did not want to waste my precious time thinking about a begging child. After all, the Egyptian crisis occurring half way across the world was far more important. I had chosen to forget about my own surroundings and worry about someone else’s. Why? because, seeing a kid in torn clothes begging, unsettled me. You will never give alms to a well built youth, but you just may give some money to a begging child. Why? because, a child can generate the maximum sympathy in the hearts of the guy who is sitting comfortably in a car or riding a bike.

When you give children that one rupee coin out of pity, by no means are you helping them. In fact, it is this act which encourages them to continue begging. The popular movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, threw light on the gangs behind the begging activities. The gangs, run by the neighborhood rogues, beat up kids, do not give them food, and treat them in an in-humane manner. The pity in our eyes for the little kids is the backbone which supports the very existence of these outfits. Many times people prefer to give a child something to eat, say a biscuit or a banana. This also does not benefit them in the long run. I am not saying that by not giving them food or alms we are causing a drastic change, as they would anyway go to the next person for alms. But at least we are doing our bit.

All said and done, a common question is asked. “As long my life is fine, why should I care if a child continues to beg?” It matters because, once these kids grow old, they will pick up antisocial activities and at that point the apathy will come back and bite you. We complain about how unsafe our cities are and how the law enforcement agencies don’t do their part to curb crime. Well, here is our chance to make a difference. By educating the children, we are removing poverty and taking a step to make them responsible citizens.

What we need to do is, tackle the problem at its roots. Children beg, because their families need extra income. I firmly believe that no matter what family a person may be born into, the atmosphere that he/she is brought up in plays a significant role in what the person ultimately ends up doing in life. By no means are these kids who beg, inherently dumb. People like us should take up initiative to provide these kids with opportunities to excel. I am not suggesting that we give up our jobs, stop having fun and not ‘enjoy life’. We just need to give sometime (which can range from an hour to an entire day) every week.

For starters, we can volunteer for an NGO, as it may be difficult to initiate things on our own. NGOs conduct various activities and you can choose to volunteer for those which you are comfortable with. For instance, if you want to be in the ‘field’, you can go to the community and educate parents about the value of education and how sending a child to school is actually financially beneficial for the child and the family in the long run. One can also pay regular visits to the local municipal school to make sure the students are provided basic amenities like mid day meals, separate bathrooms for boys and girls, a computer lab, etc. One can even go and teach for an hour every week. If you want to be away from the action, you can still make an impact by writing about issues relating to child rights, taking photographs or help raise funds to keep the efforts of the NGO on track.

Plenty of things can be done, and each one of us can contribute in some manner or the other. After all, “boond boond se hi ghada bharta hai” (read: “it takes many droplets of water to fill a pot”).

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