January 20th 2018

Opinion / Commentaries

Here is why you should never give money to street children

One Joseph Waweru, a beggar based in Nairobi boasted to a tipster that he starts his day with a heavy breakfast. "This job has you talking all day. Without a good breakfast, you’ll do it badly," he says.

By Miles Muisyo KiiliFriday, 15 Dec 2017 12:14 EAT

If begging is a profession, then it is supported by alms-giving. This may seem like a radical statement to make, I mean how do you blame charity for a situation that disgraces human dignity as street begging does? The truth of the matter is: if a culture endorses lesser morals for ‘good reasons’, it will still be atrocious.

One of the most contested aspects of knowledge on street living is related to the numbers. Admittedly, it is difficult to get an exact number but there are estimates that we can rely on.

In 1999, a consortium of organisations working on street children reported over 50,000 street children in Nairobi alone. In 2007, their estimate was at 60,000 street families in Nairobi and 300,000 of them all over Kenya.

Located in the Central parts of Nairobi, Mlango Kubwa, a former landfill, houses street children who have nicknamed it ‘the base’. Their typical day includes ravaging rubbish dumps for scraps to make a profit.

Reporting for The Star in October this year, Pili Chimerah said that Mombasa has over 3,500 street children some of whom were forced to leave their homes to go and beg. Most of Mombasa street families are from the upcountry.

Many children leave their homes where traditional community ties have loosened, parents have died or family is incapable of supporting them, for cities where they have a better chance of surviving by doing odd jobs, scavenging rubbish sites,stealing or prostitution.

This is not to mention that they are thrust into a harsh, bleak and depraved environment that exposes them to dangers such as harassment, drug trafficking, starvation, poor hygiene and so forth.

The Kid Children of Hope organization that deals with street children all over the world, reports public perceptions that have them unfairly accused of things like theft as one of the challenges they face. No-one believes them when they report a crime.

We as a community move to help them. We rally behind a journalist who saves a crippled kid in the midst of a political violence and we empathize with literally anyone who says they have no food and says it well.

On the other side of statistics, there are many street children out there on flimsy grounds. One Joseph Waweru, a beggar based in Nairobi boasted to a tipster that he starts his day with a heavy breakfast. "This job has you talking all day. Without a good breakfast, you’ll do it badly," he says. This lifestyle suggests that he treats street begging as a job; he will do it as long as Kenyans are generous enough to keep giving.

Waweru was a carjacker along Thika road who was beaten by a mob in 2006. He escaped on the verge of death, saved by police. After his release the next day, he took to begging on the streets to continue the construction of his houses in Pipeline, Nairobi. 10 years later, he is still there, taking advantage of his disability. He has finished building his houses with the Sh2,000 per day that he makes.

Another beggar, Aggrey Oketch, also based in Nairobi was born with a disability. He moves around with a wheelchair, begging to supplement the money his three able brothers give him. He takes to the streets because he wants to ‘make his own money.

These people take advantage of the generosity of Kenyans. Surprisingly, the blind beggar will complain when you give him ‘fake money’ and still expect you to believe him. He will bolt during an emergency along Biashara Street and then find a spot along Moi Avenue.

Mark, you this is not just a problem in Nairobi. Eldoret, Kisumu, Mombasa, Machakos and even Nakuru have similar stories to tell. Some of these beggars are taking us all for a ride; they make fortunes off us. Some are multilingual. Some are unapologetic.

These would not budge if you offered to remove them from the street. Who would leave their hassle if it was working for them? Would you leave your job?

The question then becomes, should you give to children on the street? In a community where your charity secures their place in the street but your influence could give them a home; if they still want the street, what do you do?  

The writer is a student at Mount Kenya University

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