Anyone who’s taken a Caribbean cruise or visited one of the world’s less affluent countries has been approached – sometimes even mobbed – by children begging for money. Many are dirty and obviously hungry. Some are disabled and/or disfigured.
It’s hard to resist dropping a few coins into their small hands, but Pakistan native and child advocate Zulfiqar Rashid says we must.
“Crime rings around the world traffic in children for use as beggars, and they will starve or maim the children to elicit more sympathy – and money,” says Rashid, who writes about a particularly cruel form of this in “The Rat-boys of Karalabad.” The title refers to children in Indo Asian countries whose heads are tightly bound when they’re very young resulting in stunted brains and terrible disfigurement. The children are then put to work as beggars.
“When you give money to child beggars, it may well help fund the perpetuation of this industry – more kidnappings, more children starved and maimed,” says Rashid. “Even if the children are not working for mafia types, giving them money or gifts gives them incentive to stay on the streets instead of going to school, which is the only way out of poverty.”
Instead, consider helping those children with a gift that can truly save their lives through one of these charities. Each has a four-star rating – the highest possible – from Charity Navigator, a non-profit that provides objective evaluations of charities:
• Save the Children helps children and their families help themselves by fighting poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease in the United States and around the world on a daily basis. It also responds to disasters, providing food, medical care and education, and staying in ravaged communities to help rebuild. This charity spent more than 91 percent of its revenues on its programs and services in 2011. (Charity Navigator finds most charities spend 65 to 75 percent on the programs they exist to provide.)
• Kids Around the World provides safe play equipment for children in areas where, because of war, natural disasters and poverty, it’s hard to be a kid. The faith-based charity also trains and equips churches and Sunday school teachers around the world to visually share the Bible with the children in their communities. More than 90 percent of its budget went to its programs and services in 2011.
• Invisible Children, Inc. rescues and rehabilitates children who have been kidnapped and used as soldiers or sex slaves for the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, in Central Africa. By Invisible Children’s count, more than 30,000 children have been abducted. Many are forced to commit brutal atrocities, including killing their parents with machetes. Invisible Children says it “exists to bring a permanent end to LRA atrocities.” In the 2011-12 fiscal year, it spent more than 81 percent of its budget on programs and services.
• Feed My Starving Children provides MannaPack meal formulas, developed by food scientists to reverse and prevent malnutrition, to missions and humanitarian organizations in more than 55 countries. The food is then distributed to orphanages, schools, clinics and feeding programs. In 2012-13, the faith-based charity delivered 163 million meals with the help of more than 657,000 volunteers. Countries served include Haiti, Nicaragua, the Philippines and North Korea. More than 87 percent of revenues go toward programs and services.
About the Author: Zulfiqar Rashid was born in Pakistan and now resides in southern California. As a regular contributor to various newspapers, Rashid has written extensively, recounting his travels to Pakistan, and about major figures in the Pakistani artistic and cultural scene. Rashid is also an accomplished artist and calligrapher, whose art has been featured in the San Diego Union Tribune. His works have been exhibited at galleries in San Diego, Del Mar, and La Jolla, as well as the San Diego Art Institute and the San Diego Port Authority’s “I Madonnari” festival.