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Panhandling Children in Antigua- A Much Needed Discussion

You’re on your way home from work; You get to the stoplight at Golden Grove school or at the end of Whenner Road and there they are……moving from vehicle to vehicle. Your mind is trying to decide whether to give them a dollar or not, or maybe your mind is already made up: “Me nah give them one blue cent.”

This is an everyday encounter in the areas surrounding St. John’s city, more specifically Valley Road, Old Parahm Road and Whenner Road. For years, we have dealt with the sad pleading eyes of young boys from ages 5 upward at thesepopular stop lights. We have grown accustomed to them, and some of us have grown tired of them.

We refer to it as begging but the correct terminology is panhandling and this article explores the ethical implications of contributing to these innocent young boys and what we as a community can do to make a difference.

Panhandling or Vending?

Panhandling is described as a form of solicitation derived from the impression created by someone holding out his hand to beg or using a container to collect money. When I did my research for this piece, I had to ask myself- are these children actually panhandling? I mean, more than often, they are trying to sell you something- Genip, mangoes, cane, sugar apples.

They will normally raise their bags at your window then ask for a dollar if you aren’t interested in purchasing their fruit. This is a daily routine for most of these children and it makes you wonder: do they go to school? Do they have a family? Who are they selling for? What will they do with the money?

Whether they are panhandling or vending, one thing is for certain: They need some kind of help.

To Give, Not to Give, or to Care at All? That is the question

Last month, I overheard a lady asking a young boy about his parents, and whether he was enrolled in school. She questioned about his father’s involvement in his life and whether his mother was employed. To most of these questions, the he responded a bitter ‘yes.’ The lady then gave him a five-dollar bill and encouraged him to use it to go to school tomorrow. The young boy smiled and said thank you……and moved on to the next car.

I assume this is a rare occurrence, as I often see folks roll their windows up and refuse to even turn their head to the children.

Many people in Antigua claim to be ‘humanitarians.’ They get emotional when they watch social media videos of people in other countries doing good deeds. They share posts of local non-profit groups to their own timelines with captions such as “This is amazing” or “I love this!” But they seldom stop to take a look at the ones struggling around them.

The sad reality is that these young boys may turn to drugs. That is an unavoidable effect of being on the streets. What then?

Making this decision should not be based on if you are annoyed at that moment, or if you are just tired of seeing them. First, you should think of their individual situation and what inspires them to come out daily to beg strangers. And if you don’t want to give them any money, a few words of encouragement may be more valuable than you think.

Important Questions for the Relevant Authorities

What is being done to assist these panhandling children?
Have their living and financial conditions been evaluated?
When they begin to get desperate due to neglect and start committing crimes to support themselves, who will be to blame?

 

This is my opinion:

Why not make a difference in one of these little boys lives? Talk to them, find out about their home situation, and see what you can do to help. Whether it is to purchase some school uniforms or supplies, to help them acquire an internship in a field they are interested in, and in the spirit of the season blessing them with a Christmas present. There are countless ways in which we can help and I believe that it will benefit the entire country if we start to address this issue.

Secondly, I am urging the local authorities to pay attention to these children because along with all the well cared for children of this country, they are also the future. They have dreams and aspirations and they also need attention and love.

Lastly, I am urging you- the everyday person: The next time a young boy approaches your vehicle to ask for a dollar, give it to him if you can, but don’t leave without speaking a few positive affirmations to him.

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