Originally published: February 2, 2007
By: Diane Woolley (Now Diane Henry)
I lived and worked in China for eight months from 2004 to 2005. Among my travels in China, Cambodia and Thailand, I realized just how real the poverty is in that part of the world, especially among children. Having grown up in the Saint John area of New Brunswick, I know there is poverty here too. These are my stories…
Part One: “Begging Is His Job”
The small Chinese boy follows me into the bank and reaches out with his dirty little hand, tightly clutching a small yellow bowl with his other. He knows me; I always find him at the same street corner. His name, Xin Tao. He is only nine years old, wears old clothes, and has messy hair and dirty cheeks. His job, begging.Xin Tao is among thousands of children all over China who spend their days and nights begging for money, or selling roses to tourists and visitors. These children don’t go to school, or play games, or have friends. They are forced to beg by their parents, grandparents, and even strangers. Desperation and extreme poverty drives some rural families to sell their children into slavery.“You know, many beggars in China are richer than the workers in rural areas,” says Du Juan, a Shenzhen resident. “They don’t like to work because they can make more money begging in the city.”In 2002 the average yearly income in rural China was $269USD, three times less than the $853USD made in urban areas. Migrant workers seek riches in large cities such as Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, many through begging in the streets where they can make more money than Chinese farmers.Small Canadian cities like Saint John face their own battles with poverty, much like the rural landscapes of China. Here, one in four people, about 17,000, live in poverty and 42% of the poor children live in single-parent families.In the Shekou district of Shenzhen, many women rent babies to hold while begging, in attempts to appeal to the sympathetic hearts of Western tourists. They appear to be single mothers desperate to feed their children, but are sometimes caught swapping babies throughout the night.For them, begging is an occupation and it is becoming big business. “It’s their job,” says Ye Houng Chen, a local high school student. “Those people are not suffering, they are making money.” Some people are actually granted permission by the government to beg, because no one will hire them due to a disability.But children like Xin Tao certainly are suffering. They are the victims of the begging industry.Xin Tao hovers nearby as I withdraw money for dinner with some colleagues at a local restaurant. I don’t often give him money, because I know it’s not his to keep. Instead, I offer food. Tonight I pull out a candy from my purse and hand it to him. Slowly, cautiously he opens the plastic package to retrieve the treasure inside. ‘Crack’ it falls to the floor, breaking in half. As he picks it up to put in his mouth, his seven year old sister Tao Mei comes crying into the bank. She wants a piece too. He gives her the other half without hesitation and I offer my last piece of candy for them to share. I know I will see them again on my way home and will offer them a piece of fruit or bread.As I walk away, I see an old man standing in the shadows watching the two children work. They run to him with their yellow bowls jingling whenever someone offers them spare change. I think he is their grandfather, or perhaps their owner. When I ask, they call him daddy.