ETHICAL DILEMMA: Should You Give Money To Street Children?

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You are walking down the street when a young boy approaches you. He is wearing shabby clothes and appears hungry, and is cupping his hands as if to ask for money. His eyes lock with yours. What do you do?

The answer seems simple: Give him some money and continue on your way.

But somehow, that doesn’t quite feel right. Maybe it has to do with the discomfort of seeing such a desperate child, and feeling like you should do more. Or maybe it’s the guilt associated with feeling privileged in comparison, and feeling like you are being targeted for help because you are foreign.

Or, you may worry that the boy is part of a crime ring that abducts children and forces them to beg for money, a ploy made famous in the movie Slumdog Millionaire. As such, giving this child money would mean giving it to criminals.

So should you slip a few coins into those cupped hands or shake your head and keep on walking? Or should you do something else?

Simply put, it is cruel not to give money to a child in need. For most Americans, one dollar isn’t much, but in another country, the equivalent could be enough to feed one person, or perhaps an entire family, for a day, maybe longer. Your dollar really could help save a life.

But if you are (rightly) moved by the experience, we hope you'll consider doing even more. One option is to channel your money to international aid organizations that provide assistance to children and families, and that help tackle the root causes of poverty. Oxfam, UNICEF, Partners In Health, and Population Services International are a few good examples.

If you’re living abroad, you can also reach out to organizations that provide direct assistance—orphanages, medical clinics, and after-school programs. Many welcome foreign volunteers, including study abroad students, and are committed to developing meaningful, long-lasting relationships with the children they serve.

It can be uncomfortable to be asked for help, and it is often easier to say “no” than to say “yes.” This is especially true if you’re living in a country where child poverty runs rampant, and you are being approached for money on a regular basis.

But you can rise above that initial discomfort, not by becoming immune to poverty, but by actively addressing the larger problem—and, when possible, by really getting to know the children you help.

For more recommended charities, visit


Posted on 4/19/2009 by

Robyn Stegman

Beggar masters, as displayed in Slumdog Millionaire, are a reality in some parts of the world which makes it more difficult to give a dollar when you know there is a possiblity that it won't go to the child at all. When I was in India a lot of people asked what to do with these beggar children and the best advice I got was this: Go to a local shop and get food for them (I like getting a bunch of bannanas) and sit down with the beggars and eat with them. Sometimes they won't go for this but I found most of the times kids enjoy sitting down for a minute and sharing a banana. I've learned so much by talking with beggars and you learn to respect them as humans. A friend took this advice to Uganda and now buys lunch everyday for a group of refugees. In his eyes they've transformed from beggars to friends.

Posted on 4/20/2009 by

Glimpse Staff

Glimpse Staff

This is wonderful advice, Robyn. Thanks so much for sharing!

Posted on 4/21/2009 by

Colin Jones

Colin Jones

Here in China it is a huge problem where children, especially little girls are used for begging on the streets by pimps and who are not old enough to be working the "barber shops" yet. On top of that the controllers on the streets who take their mob of children out and tell them to grab a hold of foreigners and people who look wealthy to make a distraction while another older kid picks their pocket.... Well all put together I dont give money out on the streets because as with so many other things here in China you cant tell the real from the fake.

Posted on 6/24/2009 by

Daniel Mueller

Daniel Mueller

Living in China, I have to agree with Colin, we have experienced children hanging around your ankles and you tell them over and over again, that you will not help them or those who follow you for miles to get money. In our small town, there are very few street children begging, because the economy is so poor. Many of the children will come and dig through garbage at our school to get bottles and recyclables to sell. We will sometimes divide out those things and help them and have gotten to know them and their families. We are working on setting up several opportunities to help the poor children in the countryside and really do pity those sent out by family or criminal minds to pull at people's hearts. Some things we try to do for those begging is to buy them food from local vendors, and we do give some money to those begging who draw pictures or provide music.

Posted on 11/19/2009 by

Delia Harrington

Delia Harrington

In addition to the many children who are not begging on their own behalf, there's also the larger issue of a society dependent on begging. In Egypt, street children beg locals as well as foreigners, and it is an overwhelming problem. A campaign was launched for 2009 to be the Year of Dignity, and it includes ceasing to give money to street children. Instead, people are encouraged to get actively involved in their community and lend financial assitance to family and friends who may need it, as well as to actual organized charities instead of streetchildren. Rather than feeling white/western guilt and feeding into the cycle (which this article presumes is the only right thing to do, "Simply put, it is cruel not to give money to a child in need") how about helping to break it?

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