I met this child when I was headed to the cinema to catch a movie.
It wasn’t one of my movie days; I was just in a really bad mood that afternoon and I needed some sort of distraction. It was one of those days you feel out of all sorts and there’s nothing to blame for it. There’s no one to sulk at or ignore. It’s just a bad day so you have to wait it out. Usually, I spend my days at home reading or curled under the blankets, but today I had to go see a client.
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It was a long and boring meeting, and the longer it got, the more irritated I was. Just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, the meeting ended. I sighed in relief. So I decided to take a walk – and found a cinema a few blocks away. I decided to go in and find a movie to watch.
But just as I was about to turn into the premises, this kid comes running out of nowhere, grabs onto my t-shirt and starts wailing, “I am hungry! I want to eat!” You can imagine how I felt. I honestly had to restrain myself from smacking him. I just grabbed my shirt out of his grasp and growled at him. “If you’re hungry, go and work!”
Sigh. I know. I shouldn’t have said that.
Believe me, as I sat in the cinema, my anger dissipated and was replaced with some shame and self-loathing. Did I have to be so hard on the kid? I could easily have just removed myself from the situation. But he shouldn’t have grabbed onto my shirt. I refused to look at the spot he had grabbed; I knew it would be dirty and really grubby. But what I had said continued to torment me.
Why would I tell a child to go and work? Am I not supporting child labour?
Slowly, my anger returned. But this time it was directed at whoever had sent that child out to beg for alms. There are certain things children should be protected from, and having to beg for money from strangers is one of them. Sadly, it has become such a commonplace sight that the average reaction would be similar to mine.
It’s hard to condemn certain things without sounding judgmental, but it isn’t fair for a child to pay for his or her parents’ mistakes. When you have a child you cannot provide for, you put an innocent in the direct line of fire of suffering. You expose a child to the bitter and ugly underbelly of the world – an underbelly even adults have a hard time navigating. Why have a child you cannot care for?
Another time, I was coming from a friend’s and it was late in the evening – after nine late. I got stuck in a bit of traffic and as I patiently waited for the cars to move, I spotted this kid, carrying a basin filled to the brim with bottled water.
This child could not have been more than twelve years.
I cannot frankly say that it didn’t hurt my heart. And I can’t say I didn’t tear up. So, I called him over and gave him some money. I felt like asking him to just put the basin down and sit with me for a moment. I was worried his parents or guardian – or whoever was cold-blooded enough to send him out at that time of the day – was watching from some distance off.
Then I wondered if they weren’t, then who’s to protect this kid from being kidnapped?
Sometimes I think we don’t have children anymore in this country. Sometimes, I think all the violence they’ve seen has taken its toll and robbed them of their innocence. I look at the children and try not to wonder why they aren’t somewhere playing with their peers instead of being on the road trying to make a living.
But I think, and as you will agree, that we have done enough thinking.
What do we do to help stop this? Instead of just talking about it over and over again, what can we do?
What can be done – without waiting for the government?
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