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Friday, 16 September 2011

Begging as Child Exploitation?

An interesting editorial comment from Tanzania's The Citizen on curbing begging :

Images of children leading blind adults are now commonplace in most urban areas. There are two issues here: one, exploitation of children and, two, the indignity to those who have taken up begging as a career. It is a very crude form of child exploitation when we make a child as young as six lead an adult in a begging mission. That child should be in school, for pity's sake. Much as we sympathise with the situation of a person who has, say, lost his sight, we still believe there are ways such as person can be self-reliant. As the adage goes, disability in not inability: The late Mzee Morris Nyunyusa, blind since childhood, remains easily the best traditional drummer the country has ever produced. By the time of he died, aged 82, Mzee Morris could play 17 drums at a go. The point we are making is: Let society look into ways of helping the disadvantaged to be self-reliant. Giving them alms only demeans them.." 
This is a complex issue, and certainly too simplistic to assume that beggars are exploiting their children by relying on them to earn a living. At the very least their use of their children is if anything, existential. The child depends on the begging father to live another day. But then we can't dismiss that this is indeed a form of child labour - see Children as Bread Winners. But ultimately focusing on rights here does not help unless our "rights" language is grounded in a broader understanding of "human worth". If work demeans children, we must recognise that poverty demeans the blind. The solution therefore lies in tackling the underlying causes of both : that is the denial of "economic rights" to the poorest in our society. Not everyone is a Mzee Morris, but every must have access to the basic minimums of welfare. It is the only way to resolve the difficult of seemingly conflicting rights. 


  1. A complex problem indeed! I know that it sounds like a unrelated issue, but it is unfortunate that the prison system is itself so overwhelmed currently. That's because there are some excellent programs internationally that take dogs rescued from abusive conditions, and prisoners who have earned privileges through good behaviour are assigned to rehabilitate and train the animals as guide dogs and helpers for the blind or otherwise disabled.

    The dogs are clearly better off, the prisoners eagerly compete for the opportunity, the disabled receive companions that help them become more self-sufficient from other people, and thus society in general also benefits without expensive programmes since the dogs and prisoners both work for free. Only a small core of paid staff to ensure that the animals are being properly trained and to interface with prison authorities and disabled advocates is required. Given positive impacts on three major areas of concern to international charities (animal welfare, prison conditions, and empowerment of disabled persons), dedicated donor funding would be relatively easy to secure if the money cannot be found otherwise. For more information about such programs, just google "cell dogs prison", there are hundreds of them now because they work.

  2. Very interesting!

    What you are really rightly noting is the need for creative solutions that delivers multiple gains. We are missing those.

    On the idea itself, it can work though it seems to me guide dogs work better where there's supporting road infrastructure. Proper street facilities. As you in Zambia it's a bit of chaotic structure. The roads are not designed with the blind in mind.

    I assume you suggestion is merely to help them adapt to life and not to encourage more independent begging? I suppose the difficulty with this is that we have two vulnerable goods - children and the blind!

  3. I certainly would not want to imply that there is any one thing, or even collection of things that can be done to make being blind easy. However we live in a time when certain blind persons climb the Himalayas, so while broken terrain definitely ups the difficulty, it is not an insurmountable barrier. A well trained companion animal gives the blind person important feedback on what it not only sees, but hears and smells as well. Not just supplementing for a lack of vision but reinforcing those senses the blind habitually rely on for navigation.

    Older persons who are already accustomed to begging may resist efforts to provide them training and opportunity to take up more productive activities. Should the only achievable result of providing them with companion animals be to alleviate the burden on their children and grandchildren, well at least that is something of an improvement. Sadly some adult beggars may also resist this move, as it is not unlikely that a blind person with a small child elicits more sympathy than does one begging alone.

    The overall unemployment situation also exacerbates the problem for persons with disabilities seeking gainful occupation. With so many others also in need of training, tools, and opportunity, it becomes harder to justify the specialised arrangements those with disabilities often require in order to enter the workplace. In the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides both protection against discrimination in the workplace as well as extension services to help employers, disabled individuals, and families to adapt via the Job Accommodation Network. Telephony and the global proliferation of call centres presents an excellent opportunity for blind persons in less developed countries like Zambia, especially with new Job Access With Speed (JAWS) software.

    The presence of a companion animal may not help a blind person to be more effective in the workplace (though that may depend on the nature of the work), but it will certainly assist them getting to and from work safely. Providing opportunities better than a beggar's bowl is the larger challenge by far.


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