Tue | Oct 27, 2020

Organised begging - Parents, children shun social intervention to continue begging on streets

Published:Sunday | January 26, 2020 | 12:00 AM
Warren Gray at home in Farm, May Pen, Clarendon. Gray, who has slowly been losing his sight, says he allows his girls to go out and beg for money so they can send themselves to school.
Child abuse data for 2019. Child begging falls under neglect as a form of child abuse.

Relocating children from their homes is the last resort, but officers from the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) say they are having a difficult time dealing with minors who take to the streets and risk their safety begging.

CPFSA Investigations Manager Stacy-Ann Hewitt Lindsay said that, while the agency has intervened in dozens of child-begging cases islandwide, some children and their parents continue to shirk the assistance provided by the agency.

“I don’t think that they are considering our intervention as assistance … . There was one situation where we tried to remove one child, and that resulted in him pulling a knife,” said Hewitt Lindsay, noting cases of child-beggars fleeing upon the approach of investigators.

Of dozens of intervention cases islandwide, only two children, ages 10 and 15, were found to be homeless. The rest were living with parents, she said, and they are often compliant and in instances request that the children solicit specific items.

“In the times that we have been able to intercept them and get to their parents, we have never had a case of a child who is homeless. They are always of an address and there is a parent in the home,” explained Hewitt Lindsay. “Some of them go to school and beg in their spare time while others don’t even bother with school.

“In all the cases, the parents are aware and they also receive some of the proceeds of that begging and they become comfortable,” she continued.

The CPFSA was responding to a Sunday Gleaner story last week, airing the plight of two ailing parents in Clarendon who allow their four children – two of whom are girls ages 12 and 10 – to solicit money from passers-by in the town at night.

Hewitt Lindsay could not say for sure the number of interventions made in recent years, but relayed cases of children lying on behalf of their parents or pretending to be sick so they could find favour from those to whom they tell their chilling tales.

In 2017, two children were relocated from a gully inhabited by homeless homosexuals in the Corporate Area, recalled the investigator.

Ran away from home

The teenager, a boy, reportedly ran away from home after his father and his community started to scorn him for being homosexual. Hewitt Lindsay said the 10-year-old was referred to the CPFSA by cops.

“We try to work with the family. We ask them why they feel they need to have this child helping to support the family, and then we try to help them meet these needs,” she continued.

“A few of the children have been removed because they are at risk. Sometimes other issues, like drug use, are involved,” she said, brushing aside calls for draconian measures to be taken against parents.

“There are instances when we definitely have to get the police involvement and let them (parents) know that we are serious,” she said. “[But] We are not in the habit of taking them and remanding them at all. They have families.”

Jean Duhaney, team leader for the Child and Family Support Unit at the CPFSA, said begging has become a lifestyle for some parents and their children.

“I don’t think it is any one thing that propels children into begging. Some communities have it as a norm. Sometimes there are genuine situations of need,” she said. “Oftentimes, people in a particular socio-economic class will do this more, but you have some persons who just want to try it one time and it works.”

A Sunday Gleaner probe earlier this month revealed that children were frequenting ATM machines, supermarkets, stoplights and restaurants to beg from strangers. Some wander from parish to parish, changing their stories at each new location.

Fifty-year-old Warren Gray said it hurts his heart that his children go out and beg at nights, but said if given some assistance to open up a shop inside his yard he would be able to support his children.

The CPFSA said it has started an investigation into his case.