Child abuse has many forms like sexual abuse, child neglect, physical abuse, and emotional neglect. One thing that all of these types have in common is that the majority of child abuses are chronic ones; it is a cycle from which most children cannot break for a long time, and even if they do, the mental trauma remains with the child. Child beggary is an example of a cycle of abuse that creates an impasse from which it is practically impossible to break free.
Beggary was once regarded as an acceptable occupation in India, and it has now evolved into a form that is widely recognized and practiced. Destitute people, many of whom are children, are frequently seen begging for money at train stations, bus stops, market areas, traffic signals, urban parks, and tourist attraction places. Apart from the truly impoverished, some people are thought to be professionally trained beggars from a gang or begging ring. But whatever the situation may be, earning sympathy and pity is a key component of begging for which children are involved. Astonishingly, children as young as 2-3 years old are expertly trained to implore adults and repeat these pitiful sentences. To add to the sympathy, many children’s body parts are severely damaged, leaving them with long-term physical and mental suffering. To force children to beg, they are frequently threatened, beaten, sexually molested, and drugged. When children are treated as slaves and their innocence and childhood are taken away, they are exposed to early adulthood and permanent trauma. Kids who engage in begging are frequently enticed by money and entrapped or forced into other activities such as child labor, prostitution, theft, etc., and exploited in various ways.
One of the most crucial reasons for ongoing poverty and beggary is a lack of basic education and awareness. Lack of assistance is another reason for continued beggary. Most of the families begging with their children are unaware of the assistance available from NGOs and other agencies. Furthermore, families that are aware of the assistance may choose not to send their children due to a financial emergency.
Different states have passed laws prohibiting begging and declared it a cognizable offense. Beggars may be arrested by the police, rehabilitated, or punished under these anti-begging legislations. When it comes to legislation against child begging, the Children Act 1960, of which section 42 states that anyone who employs or uses a child for begging faces up to a year in prison, a fine, or both if they do so. Aiding and abetting this crime is likewise a penal violation. Employing or utilizing a child for begging is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of one lakh rupees, or both, according to section 76 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2015. Anyone who injures or amputates a child for begging will be sentenced to a minimum of seven years in prison and a maximum of ten years in prison, as well as a fine of five lakh rupees. Aiding and abetting this crime is also a crime. The Indian Penal Code, Section 363A, specifies minors and what constitutes begging. This section makes it illegal to abduct or maim a minor to beg. It also makes it a crime to employ and use a minor for begging by anybody other than the child’s legal guardian. The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act (BPBA) 1959 defines a child as any boy under 16 years of age and any girl under 18 years of age. When the beggar is a child under the age of five, the court must refer the child to a “children’s court,” where he or she will be dealt with according to the Children Act of 1960. Anyone who has responsibility, or care of a child and allows or induces the child to beg or accept alms or uses another person as an exhibit faces a term of one to three years in prison under Section 11 of the BPBA.
Even with all of these laws in place, child beggary remains relatively unchanged. The issue is with how the laws are carried out. Improper reporting and action result in the mere fabrication of laws on paper. More attention should be put into scrutinizing the application of existing laws as well as other relevant laws such as human trafficking and drug trafficking. To improve the issue, more laws should be enacted on a national level to ensure anti-begging, and efforts should be taken to disband begging gangs. Children who have been involved in these activities should be helped and sheltered through rehabilitation programs. To help these children break the cycle of poverty and begging, education and training must be provided to them. Health and food aid, as well as employment assistance, should be provided to these children’s families. Individually, we must always strive to report begging children to the right authorities and NGOs that can assist them, save their lives and make their lives worth living.
Author’s Name: Shruti Jha (Institute of Law, Nirma University)