ETHICAL DILEMMA: Should You Give Money To Street Children?
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 givewell.net.
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