For the last few weeks, I’ve been participating in an online course which has been presented on Coursera by Jacquelyn Meshelemiah from the College of Social Work at The Ohio State University. I would like to share something I posted in a discussion on what form of human trafficking we believe will be the most feasible for an ordinary citizen to address.
I originally come from Ireland and, in that country, there is an itinerant ethnic group who are typically referred to as Travellers. There can be friction between the travelling and ‘settled’ communities of Ireland.
When I was around 8 or 9 years old, I remember watching a Saturday morning children’s TV show which brought children from both communities together to discuss their lives – the differences and the similarities – so that they (particularly those from the settled community) could have a greater understanding of one another.
The children were then interviewed to explain what they had learned.
One of the things that was brought up was how some of the children from the travelling community were told by their parents to go out an beg for money. They said that if they didn’t bring home enough, their fathers would beat them.
I have a vague memory of the children who were interviewed coming up with solutions to address this problem which included giving money and asking grown ups to tell the fathers not to hit their children (because it’s not their fault it people don’t want to give them money).
Back then (early-mid 80’s), no one recognised this as being a form of child trafficking. It was just thought of as a family matter (or a reason to look down on Travellers) in my community. In fact, it is possible that this post may be the first time anyone has ever questioned whether or not this is child trafficking!
So, what should be done about it?
Travellers are already a vulnerable group, and this behaviour would seem to stem from their economic vulnerability. Penalising offending parents under the law may not be an appropriate way to go about addressing the matter. There are deeper rooted issues which need to be addressed.
Whether the children who are coerced into begging for money are in Ireland, India or anywhere else on the planet, there are things that ordinary people can do.
If you see a child begging, alert an NGO or other community group whose work is for the benefit of children. In some areas, police may not have had sufficient training in dealing with this issue and could either punish the child or wave them away instead of viewing them as victims. However, that is not to say that alerting the police is always inappropriate – they can help!