“Naked feet, walking on the street.
Tiny palms, begging for a treat.
Only if we could look deep into their eyes,
We will know where the reality lies!”
Childhood is the formative phase in every person's life. Having a beautiful childhood is indeed the most cherished gift of all. Unfortunately, not every child is blessed with such a fate.
In today's hectic pace of life, we come across many people. A popular sight on most Indian streets comprises innocent children with tangled hair, teary eyes, skinny bodies, and outstretched hands constantly knocking at our windows, peeping inside cars begging for either money or food. It is more common at traffic signals, temples, and outside places of worship. Many people shoo them away, while some prefer giving them money.
However, have we ever thought about the lifestyle of such children? What could be their dreams? Do they beg willingly, or are they forced into this job? There are numerous questions, which are perhaps difficult to answer.
Childhood Lost on the Streets
Begging is a range of activities whereby an individual asks a stranger for money on being poor or needing charitable donations for basic survival, health, or religious reasons (International Labour Organization, 2004). Child Begging is using a minor to solicit or receive alms (Section 363 A (4)(a) & (b), IPC, 1860). It is one such activity that can be manipulated and converted into a business by tremendous forces, weaponising the innocence of these children.
According to the National Human Rights Commission report, 44,000 children are abducted, on average, every year in India. One child goes missing every eight minutes. Over 11,000 of these missing children remain untraced. However, the actual figure is believed to be much higher, as many cases go unreported.
Studies conducted by Governmental and Non-Governmental Organisations have also revealed that many children go missing from running away from home. Either because they are fed up with the domestic conditions of their family or to escape abuse. They are often sent/sold off by their own families who hope to gain some work that will bring money home.
These missing children end up in different situations. Some are killed, while others primarily engage in forced labour in hazardous factories and illegal establishments. Countless children become victims of unlawful adoptions and unlawful organ transplants. These innocent children are also exploited sexually and forced into prostitution, sex slavery, pornography, and forced marriages.
As far as begging is concerned, according to the Census 2011 report, more than 3 lakh children across India from the age group of 0-14 years are forced to beg, using everything from an addiction to drugs to threats of violence and actual beatings.
According to the report released by the Office of Registrar General and Census Commissioner, West Bengal tops the chart with 75,083 Child Beggars, followed by states like Uttar Pradesh with 57,038, and Madhya Pradesh with 25,603 Child Beggars. Child Begging is also widespread in states like Maharashtra (22,737), Rajasthan (22,548), Gujarat (12,584), Jharkhand (9,817), Chhattisgarh (9,355), Haryana (7, 971,), Delhi (2,073), and Goa (229). The primary targets are homeless children, children living in slums, and children from migrant families.
Begging in India is a multi-million-dollar business evolving into an industry run by Mafias and Cartels. In comparison to adult beggars, child beggars are more likely to receive donations or charity from people; this is why children are dragged into the business.
A Structured Nexus: Patterns in Child Begging
According to the research conducted by Anti-Slavery International, the most significant reasons recorded for child begging around the globe are drug addiction, parental coercion, organised crime, and preaching by religious leaders. Other causes include social disorders like anomie, cultural conflicts, industrialisation, community disorganisation, poverty, and the breakdown of a family during natural calamities, which compel children to beg for survival.
Research has stated that child begging occurs in several forms and patterns.
Children forced to beg by parents- Various techniques, right from threats of violence to psychological coercion, are employed against the child. Recently Mumbai Police brought to light that many parents from Mumbai had dragged their children in begging and were themselves living a comfortable life. They were using all the facilities provided by the government under the Right to Education Act, 2009 but were not sending their children to school.
Children forced to beg by third parties- Various third parties like informal networks, organised gangs, mafia, religious leaders force children to beg. It is reported that children are sent to religious boarding schools where they are taught how to beg.
A Pre-planned, Well-acted Show!
One must have observed, women begging on the streets or at the signals are always seen carrying a baby in their arms. However, have we ever wondered why these babies are always sleeping? It is one such instance that raises doubt on the whole scenario. To unveil the reality, these babies are not sleeping but are drugged to such a length that makes them unconscious until the next working hours of the women beggars. The whole plan is plotted to exploit people's emotions and take money out of their pockets. "The babies were rescued when we brought them to the rescue homes. We were shocked when we found them sleeping even after three days!" says Anitha Kanaiya, Associate Executive Director of OASIS, an NGO working against Human Trafficking that rescued 106 children from Bangalore.
It is shocking to know that babies are even rented from labour class mothers to make them look more sympathetic to the givers.
A Vicious Cycle of Abuse and Torture: Consequences of Begging
Children are often injured, to be precisely maimed and handicapped to look more pitiful and solicit empathy for higher earnings. Mafia gangs are deliberately crippling a large number of children to fill their pockets. Children have to undergo severe physical, emotional, and mental distress and have long working hours with no control over their income.
A research paper on Child Beggary recorded that these children are given a daily target. If not achieved, they are not given food, forced to beg for extra hours, and are punished severely by the perpetrators. Moreover, they have to surrender their income to their exploiters. The study also revealed the