Beggars exist throughout the world; they are not a reaction to third world status, but rather to intrinsic inequalities in economics. Some places beggars are more pronounced then others. Some places they are harassed by the police. Some places they are used in money making rackets.
How can beggars be a business? You would think that they would not make enough money to be profitable. You would think the cost of upkeep (and legal troubles) would outweigh any profit. In many places, you would be wrong.
It is amazing how economics theory works: if there is a demand there will be a supply.
In February I was at a quiz night for a local international school raising money for a habitat for humanity project. At the quiz night, they had several items raffled off. One of these items was a chest made for wood forested in a rainforest. It went for a lot of money as I stood by in awe at the supply which is depleting our world’s rainforest. For me, I would never want to buy such an item because it encourages deforestation of rainforests. It was not just me thinking along these lines; the MC joked that it could only appreciate in value as the wood to make it would soon be extinct or illegal.
Basically, buy buying the object, we create demand.
Begging (in terms of human trafficking) parallels this phenomenon. The process is only profitable so long as the children (generally the victims of begging trafficking rings are children or the disabled) are given money by passers by. Personally, I never offer money to the children in Phnom Penh or those I see traveling around. There is too much certainty in my head that they will not benefit from my pocket change. I will, however, off to buy them food or give them a little of what I am eating.
Side note: giving the peanuts you are given for free with you beer to street children is a sure way to not be offered any more peanuts at most bars in Phnom Penh.
I do my part to break down the cycle of supply demand; but often I wonder what harm I am doing to these children. Traffickers often demand an amount of money to be collected daily be the children; if they are not able to hand over that amount, the trafficker will beat them, leave them out in the cold, withhold the little comfort they have, or force them to continue working through the night. There are cases where children were even beaten or maimed (sometimes permanently) to make them look more pathetic and bring in more cash.
Is my failure to give money contributing to this problem? If so, and it is, how do you stop the cycle? Until it is not profitable trafficking for begging will continue, but as profitability (read demand) drops, the treatment of the children will suffer until it is stopped.
Finally, how do you mix children that work on the street into the equation? For example, children who sell flowers or shine shoes. Like their counterparts who simply ask for money, these children too are often controlled by trafficking rings. They rarely see the fruit of their labor and are subjected to the same treatment. Even the idea of maiming children sellers continues because the more pathetic and helpless they look, the more likely tourists and locals are to buy the overpriced goods or services.