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Date: Tue, 24 Nov 1998 16:14:45 -0600 (CST)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: Child beggars in Asia
Article: 48441
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.13848.19981125181636@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** twn.features: 302.0 **/
** Topic: Child beggars in Asia **
** Written 9:03 AM Nov 24, 1998 by twnet@po.jaring.my in cdp:twn.features **

A new kind of trafficking: Child beggars in Asia

World of Work, no. 26, 1998

Until recently, the incidence of child beggars was overshadowed by the more visible and voluminous trade in women and children being trafficked for prostitution. But experts see begging as the newest trend in child trafficking throughout the Mekong region.

Poipet, Cambodia: The children had been caught begging illegally in Bangkok and deported by Thai immigration authorities. Now, they sat quietly in single file on the dusty ground, sweating under the high sun, tired from their bumpy four-hour ride to the Cambodian border and awaiting an uncertain future. Some will be claimed by their parents, others handed over to charities or officials, and a few will slip through the net altogether, cajoled or coerced by agents into returning to Thailand.

The youngest was a four-year-old named Bon. His dirty condition, club foot, and twisted legs were a contrast to the wide grin on his face. The child traffickers loitering at the border kept a sharp eye on him; a handicapped child brings in more money.

A few days before, compassionate and unsuspecting foreigners had been dropping coins into outstretched tin cups, confident that their donation to a scarred street child would buy food for him. Not so. The money will end up in an agent's pocket, confirming the equation that wealthy tourists plus needy child equals money.

Until recently, the number of child beggars was dwarfed by trade in some 80,000 women and children being trafficked since 1980 for prostitution. But experts are seeing a rising number of trafficked children used for begging throughout the Mekong region. Since 1997 the number of children caught begging illegally in Bangkok - 95% of them Cambodian - has more than doubled to 1,060.

A Symptom of Cambodia's Pain

That they are Cambodian should come as no surprise. Neither should the fact that they ended up in Thailand, still the region's economic hub despite Asia's ongoing economic crisis.

Cambodia is limping into recovery from a long period of civil war and many Cambodians face malnutrition, poor health, and excessive poverty, with little hope for the future. Life expectancy is 53 years, literacy is 35%, and nine-tenths of the population lives int he countryside, still littered with land mines. Cambodia ranks 153rd out of 175 countries on the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which rates living standards.

Previously a few individuals would come but now it is becoming a business, said Claudia Coenjaerts, Subregional Programme Coordinator for the International Labour Organisation (ILO)' International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) in the ILO Regional Office for Asia. It is an earning opportunity for more and more criminals, and law enforcers really don't care. It' an easy way to make money, so people at the border wait for the children, to take them away. It is one of the most horrendous forms of forced labour.

However abhorrent any trafficking in children, the trade in beggars may be even more sinister than initially thought.

Dr Dominica Garcia of the Jesuit Refugee Service works with children at Bangkok' immigration centre. Recently she treated two little boys aged four and eight who had unnatural deformities.

I hoped I was mistaken, she said, but these children looked as though they had been mutilated on purpose. Their feet were swollen, some of their fingers appeared as though they might have been hacked off, and there was a clear dent on their skin which could have been the mark of a tightly tied piece of string.

As border officials patrol the rows of silent children, Veng, a strong-looking youth of 15, looks around warily. He is an old Thailand hand, 10 years old the first time he left Cambodia.

I was swimming in the river and a Vietnamese man came into the water and pulled me out, Veng said. He put something on my face and made me sick, and put me into a taxi and brought me to Bangkok.

He taught me how to beg, where to put my cup, how to ask for money. I was afraid but he beat me if I didn't make money. He took it all and kept it and gave me some food but never enough. I was always hungry.

These days Veng crosses the border willingly. Free from his agent, he prefers begging in Bangkok to starving in Phnom Penh.

Veng is a trafficked child. According to a just-released ILO report, a trafficked child is one who is recruited and transported from one place to another across a national border, legally or illegally, with or without the child' consent, usually but not always organised by an intermediary: parents, family member, teacher, procurer, or local authority. At the destination, the child is coerced or semi-forced (by deceptive information) to engage in activities under exploitative and abusive conditions.

Held captive, the children might receive as little as US$0.25 a day in pocket money. But they may hand their agent US$20 or more every day.

Some, like Veng, become experienced and escape, striking out on their own. They learn how to avoid the police and may even become traffickers themselves, shuttling between Bangkok and the border, and earning money from the trade. They sleep under bridges, in parks or along highways, with other marginal dwellers. As illegals, they shift around more and may end up in the drug trade or prostitution.

Exploitative Child Labour

According to the ILO report, trafficked migrant children are among the most severely affected victims of exploitative child labour. The report, commissioned by ILO-IPEC from the Institute of Population and Social Research of Mahidol University in Thailand, says children living in a foreign country with foreign customs and language are easily deceived and often treated like slaves. In their isolation, they don't know where to turn for help. They can't use normal channels, and often face discrimination and harassment.

Some are victims of kidnapping or coercion but most trafficked children are sold or given up by relatives. Don, 14, and his 10-year-old sister were asked to go to Bangkok by their mother.

School was finished and my neighbour saw me and wanted to take me, he said. My parents said I should go because they needed money. Don was spotted begging by Thai police and couldn't escape without leaving his little sister behind. So they both got caught.

To help stop this trafficking, ILO-IPEC recently brought together experts from throughout the Mekong region to draft a framework for cooperation and action.


We will have to see what works and what doesn't, says Ms Coenjaerts of ILO-IPEC. Part of the difficulty is that these children are hidden and invisible, which makes them very difficult to identify. Interventions will be needed both at the national level and the subregional level, aiming to prevent the problem, harmonise legislation, coordinate information and establish bilateral agreements.

One way is to prevent child labour at the community level by showing children and their parents the real problems they will face if they go to the city, and by organising community-based surveillance. Families are often lied to by agents and promises of jobs and money are rarely kept. The other approach is through rehabilitation and re-integration once the children return home. Since many children have been forced to lead a criminal existence, reintegrating them into everyday life is not easy.

Given the illegal and fluid nature of the trade, tackling child trafficking has to be a joint effort across borders by governments and non-governmental organisations. But experience on the ground is limited and few organisations work with child beggars, though this may change as the problem grows.

Child labour is at the top of the international agenda. Delegates to the International Labour Conference in June 1998 called for a new Convention which would immediately penalise the worst forms of child labour, the scope of which includes, among others, slavery and practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking in children, forced or compulsory labour, debt bondage or serfdom.

It would reinforce the ultimate goal of the ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138), to abolish child labour. By concentrating on its most extreme forms, the new Convention would provide immediate protection, paving the way for the longer-term and broader effects of Convention No. 138. - Third World Network Features