Disturbing story in the Bangkok Post on 29 June titled Young Lives for Sale. It details the results of an investigation into child beggars in Pattaya, the Thai travel destination nearest Cambodia.
When Fil’s mother brought him from Cambodian as a 10-year-old four years ago, her intentions were far from pure — she planned to exploit him as a child beggar around the tourist hotspots of Pattaya.
And she did, until he ran away and joined a gang of street-kids begging and sleeping rough on Pattaya’s Walking Street. Walking Street is not dangerous – it has one of the highest ratios of cops to civilians in Thailand – but it’s for grown-ups.
Anyway, from being a free-lance child beggar Fil graduated to an organised gang, what you might call the corporatised side of the business. He worked 12 hours a day and got to keep none of his earnings, but he had a proper place to sleep and regular meals, so things were looking up. His new bosses took better care of him than his mother had, and he worked hard for them and avoided the cops, because he didn’t want to be sent back to Cambodia.
Eventually his luck changed and he got picked up by an NGO called the Mirror Foundation (which doesn’t seem to have updated it’s home page since January 2013 – the link is to its projects page). MF has a project called Stop Child Beggars which is trying to investigate and understand the trade in Pattaya. This is what they’ve found:
- Eighty percent of child beggars in Thailand – not in Pattaya, in all Thailand – are Cambodian. The rest are mostly Burmese and Lao, with very few Thai children.
- The problem is one of human trafficking, not poverty – meaning children are bought into Thailand in order to make money for others, not because of poverty at home.
- The children in organised begging gangs are not dong so from fear or coercion – they prefer this life to the alternatives, which are to live rough or to go back to Cambodia.
- Each child has an adult watcher and a work area: he can’t go outside it, and no one is allowed to encroach. The watcher, who’s paid 6,000 baht (about $200) a month, collects the day’s earnings each evening and passes them up the chain. The children keep little of what they collect.
The article doesn’t say how much a child beggar typically brings in, but if a gang finds itself with “too many” children (meaning not enough watchers?) they’ll typically rent the excess out at up to 12,000 baht a month (about $370), meaning that the renter expects to make considerably more than this.
The Mirror Foundation reported their findings to the police and the cops cracked down on the child beggars, but it didn’t work – the police can’t spend all their time picking up kids off the street, and when the pressure went off the kids came back.
There’s much more, but the bottom line is, don’t give money to children begging, not in Pattaya, not anywhere.
Incidentally, and because this is supposed to be a blog about books, I recommend Tim Hallinan’s Bangkok thriller Breathing Water – the link is to the Amazon Kindle page, and there are readers’ reviews. One of the strands is about the begging business.
And since we have a little space left: a video on the subject here; an article from the Pattaya Mail; and a Burmese slant here (I think the Burmese might be the most pitiable, their government being even more useless than the Cambodians).
And it’s not just Cambodia…
(The child in these photos, by the way, is not Fil, they are Cambodian children begging in Pattaya, from Flickr contributor lyndhan).