The traveller’s guide to dealing with street children

It’s International Street Children’s Day today.
The situation of children and young people living and working on the street is horrendous. As a traveller, you often see street children or other vulnerable children, especially in poorer and developing countries. By being generous and ‘doing good’, you may actually be causing harm. What should an ethical, conscious traveller do or not do when encountering a child living and/or working on the street?

  1. Do not give money to children on the street. In most cases, the money does not benefit them but goes directly to an adult or even organised crime ring that makes money out of exploiting children and vulnerable adults. Even if the money goes to the child, giving money will exacerbate the situation of keeping a child on the street. Making profit from begging means the child will choose staying on the streets over going to school. This is one of the hardest situations to deal with when working with street children; not only to get a child off the streets but to keep them off the streets as they know life on the streets is more profitable than staying in school for years.
  2. Do not buy from children on the street. While you may think your act helps the child financially, the same as the above goes here: the money does not benefit the child.
  3. If you want to help out, you can support a local organisation that works to get and keep children off the streets. Do your research and support them instead.
  4. Do not give gifts to children or take them somewhere alone. While you may think interacting with children is a special experience for you, this same experience has the potential to harm them in the long run. It teaches children to socialise with strangers, putting them more at risk when next time, the stranger may not have their best interest in mind. Of course you should be kind to children, but don’t overdo it. Think about what is best for them.
  5. Do not take photos of street children. In general, you should always ask permission before taking a photo of children or adults. When it comes to children or adults who are particularly vulnerable, I believe that you should generally not take photos of them. This includes children and adults living on the street. Keep their best interest in mind; are they benefitting from another photo of them in their miserable situation? Most child rights NGOs have a media policy that will not allow photos that show vulnerable children. Have respect for street children and don’t treat them as an object.

My former NGO Friends-International in Cambodia has developed the ChildSafe Traveler Tips that provides further guidance on how to be a ChildSafe traveller. Or check out how to be ChildSafe in other situations (at home/work/volunteering/donating).

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