Why China Can't Just Make Its Child Beggars Disappear

Recent vows by Beijing to eliminate child begging by next year show that though Chinese may care about society's most vulnerable, they don’t yet know how to really help them.

Children on the streets of Beijing, China
Children on the streets of Beijing, China
Zhang Xiuzhi

BEIJING - Among the many approaches to beggars over the centuries, French poet Charles Baudelaire held a most peculiar slant. In his essay "Beat the Poor" ("Assommons les pauvres!"), the Parisian writer describes how he'd handle old beggars who held out their hands for alms: he would simply sock them with a punch. And before the old man was able to get his bearings, the same fist would arrive again.

After being hit several times, the old beggar's eyes would start to glitter with ferocious light. Then he'd punch back. In taking the counter-punch, not only did the poet not feel angry, but actually felt comforted because he believed he had reached his goal: to have restored the self-esteem of the beggar.

Begging in human society, however, is not just a question of self-esteem. Baudelaire seemed to have reduced the elimination of panhandling to a few punches. It is both too peculiar and too simple. Nonetheless, it isn't just the poet who tries to solve complicated social issues with simple-minded approaches.

A few days back, the Ministry of Public Security cracked down on two child trafficking gangs across 10 provinces, arresting 608 suspects and rescuing 178 children.

The responsible officials immediately announced that a "zero tolerance" policy towards child trafficking would be implemented. The Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security will work together to send the child beggars home. By the end of next year, they predict, the phenomenon of children begging on the streets will have totally disappeared.

It must be said that in recent years, the Ministry of Public Security has worked closely with the public in their crack down on child trafficking crimes. Microblogging has also played a role in facilitating the interaction between the public and the police. This also helped give an open and transparent image to the Public Security Bureau.

However, the promise of setting a timetable to eliminate child begging seems to oversimplify the problem, and raise some serious doubts.

The street children begging problem involves multiple factors including the law, society and morality. From the legal point of view, there is no absolute prohibition of child begging. In the Chinese criminal code, there is the premise of a crime only if someone is "organizing disabled people or minors under the age of 14, by violence or coercion."

Victims of the mob...and family

Similarly, China's compulsory education law does not explicitly ban the practice of child begging. All the law stipulates is that all children six years old and older should be enrolled for the prescribed number of years of compulsory education. "Local government is to take effective measures to order school-aged children or teenagers to be enrolled in school…" In other words, if the child hasn't actually delayed his schooling, even if he goes begging, he does not violate the law.

According to studies, the current phenomenon of street children is varied in nature and complex in its causes. Some are the result of organized child trafficking, while others are linked to family abuse, poverty or the illness of family members. The former is a reflection of the criminal hold on today's underclass as China's society undergoes a major transformation. The latter is more widely related to the country's economic and social policies.

Under the current circumstances, the public has reason to fear that before a sound welfare and distribution system is established, even if the public authority cleared up the streets in one clean sweep, it would not radically improve the living conditions of those at the bottom of society -- and the phenomenon of child begging would no doubt remain. This is the very reason that the declaration of a timetable for making street children disappear has no real standing.

Of course, eliminating organized criminal rings of child begging is a legitimate exercise of public authority. It is not difficult to combat these practices since begging is always out in the open.

Secondly, we must exhaust all existing resources for the remedies. Are the publicly-run charitable organizations using taxpayers' money as wisely and effectively as possible? Are they spending the money in the right places? Is there a transparent system for assessing the programs?

The social relief channels must be loosened up. There is no lack of good intention in Chinese society, but there is a lack of effective oversight to ensure the best programs are supported.

And finally, the most reliable and far-reaching way to eliminate child begging is to establish fair and equitable social policies and the institutional good exercise of public power.

Read the original article in Chinese

Photo - Silly Rabbit, Trix are for Kids

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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