I’m angry about beggars and trafficking!

Beggars!  Who would have thought!  

Beggars are being thrown under the Trafficking umbrella.  It is an expansion of that social panic we don’t need!

In 2002, while living in Albania, I got advice regarding beggars from my embassy.  As far as I could tell at the time that was a reoccurring theme in American Embassies all over the world.  As far as I was concerned at the time embassies extrapolated American culture of prejudice against what we call “the homeless” in America, and appled it to the whole world.  Here’s how –

This was based on two ideas: First, the beggars were controlled by gangs who took the money.  Second, we should only give beggars advice on where to get help or free food from the community.   We could give them food, but never money.

IMGP1600Associating beggars with trafficking is just an extension of that advice.

Traffickers were virtually unknown in 2002.  In 2002 we talked about “gangs,” not traffickers. – “Gangs organize beggars to go out on the street and the gangs take their money.”  Now anything and everything is being called “trafficking.”

This letter in my local newspaper reminded me of how the demonization of trafficking continues to grow – –

RE: “Govt to ban begging, control busking.”  BP Apr 21.

Beggars aren’t to blame

The government’s plans to ban begging miss one essential cause of the problem.  Many of the beggars on the street of Thailand are victims of the most pernicious form of human trafficking: that of deformed and mutilated human flesh.  

It is obvious that many disabled and deformed beggars are incapable of having reached their begging spots themselves.  Someone has taken them out and dumped them on the streets for the day with their begging cup.
It is not an unreasonable assumption that criminal elements are behind the begging rackets and creaming off the profits.  

These hideous wrecked people should be the real target of government efforts to solve the problem.  

Here in Rayong there are four disabled beggars at the flea market every Thursday.  All the police have to do is get out of bed early and go to the market and see who is dumping these poor people on the ground.  

                                                  DAVID BROWN

I have read letters by Mr Brown’s several times before and often found them to be very reasonable. Not this time!

This letter, like so many others, infantilizes beggars, treats them like infants unable to help themselves, or even protect themselves.  Why?

Here is my reply to Mr Brown.


Ask the beggars 

I was shocked by the strong language used by David Brown regarding beggars in Post Bag, Beggars aren’t to blame.  His assumption is that traffickers are “pernicious,” meaning harmful.  Maybe not.  
When a gang of beggars exists it is possible that beggars feel they get a fair exchange from people who organize the begging.  Maybe beggars organize themselves.  If I were badly deformed or scared in some way that made employment impossible, I would welcome someone who drops me off for the day where I can make income that I share with my benefactor.  
Has anyone asked beggars how they feel?  Trafficking is an issue du jour and seems to take blame for everything.  But trafficking is a far more complex issue than our media leads us to believe.  I suggest we, at least sometimes, give to beggars even if we suspect someone else is behind the scenes.  Every activity requires a degree of organization and begging is no different.  
                                                   JOHN KANE        
On April 23th my letter was followed by a reply that I won’t write in full here but a writer with a long Thai name and therefore presumed to be Thai wrote this:   “John Kane trivializes the serious problem.”  He went on to say if money donated to beggars each day could be channeled to a central fund hospices could be funded, maybe Buddhist temples could do this.  
Yikes!  I wanted to laugh.  
Like so many other things in Thailand the needs of beggars are handled in a traditional Thai way.  Why would a Thai suggest that should change?  Beggars beg on the street.  Buddhist people want to “make merit” and so they give money.  The beggars will probably agree that, in this way, they have independence and, yes, freedom.  But the government wants to learn from America and sweep beggars off the street.  They will put the worst of them in hospices.  Pleeease!  Wh0 will make those decisions?  Who will force a beggar, who has his own family somewhere, to go to a hospice?    
I wrote this in reply, but it was not published – – letter writers don’t get to summarize, I think – – here is what I said – –

Understanding beggars needs

Post Bag had useful dialogue about beggars this week.  First, a letter used strong language to attack people accused of being “traffickers” of beggars.  I responded by saying that beggars may have a useful symbiotic relationship with those being accused.  I said we should ask the beggars if they are victims.  
A letter said I trivialized this concern.  I did not trivialize.  Au contraire I suggest others are enflaming this issue of beggars in order to conflate begging as being trafficking even when the UN definition of trafficking is not met.  Beggars, like prostitutes, are routinely infantilized and left out of this discussion that affects them.  
Kun Supanattawee thinks our donations should be collected to help beggars.  He suggests Buddhist monks could run charities offering services.  Okay, not a bad idea.  But it sounds like a lot of work ripe for corruption and high operating costs.   And should we ask the monks if they are interested in this kind of project?   
I think most people agree that we prefer to put money in the beggars own hand so we know where it went.  If he/she shares with someone else, that’s not our business.  This has a long tradition in Buddhism and has worked for hundreds of years.  It is what beggars expect.  
Again I ask, has any one asked beggars if they consider themselves to be victims, or is that more trafficking hyperbole?            
                                                       JOHN KANE

Wednesday’s editorial offered up a goodhearted desire to help beggars, but at what cost?  Every horrible crime by the beggar mafia is a normal crime already on the books.  Extortion, threats, assault, stealing, and so on need to be policed, not brought under a new umbrella category called trafficking.  

Beggars in my neighborhood do not appear to be under mafia control.  The community knows them.  Instead of rescuing beggars who may not wish to be rescued, tackle the crimes.  Any attempt to cleanse streets of beggars could easily backfire.  When blind singers, card and palm readers, dementia addled elders, and lotto sellers are all gone too, the fundamental character of Bangkok will changed.    

                                                    JOHN KANE

So, lets not miss the point here.  There is a clear desire to enflame the world about trafficking just as it has been turned into a social panic issue in America.  Beggars, and people who might be helping them, will not be the only ones added to this new category of crime.  

Ultimately trafficking laws will be no different then fences and visa requirements as a way to keep poor people in their place.  Watch this issue continue to expand.  I see no reason to think that expats, retires living abroad, young back packers and all but the wealthiest tourists could find their way under the expanding umbrella of trafficking too, detained or deported as suspects or witnesses.    

First world sensitivities are also involved here.  In so called first world countries beggars are kept out of sight or they are in some other neighborhood.  I have lived or traveled on the cheap in Albania (Gypsy beggars), Dominican Republic (Haitian beggars), Madagascar (desperately poor people on the streets), and now Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, and Thailand.  Beggars are a fact of life in the so called “third world.”  Begging is even a legitimate work in many places.

Several beggars are at the Buddhist Wat near my home.  Buddhist people give to beggars as a way to make merit for their future life.  America does not take this into consideration.  These beggars both near my home and near that wat seem to be part of the community and well known to all.  If some one helps them get to the wat and home again, no one is complaining.

I am complaining because this is an example of how the issue of trafficking, unheard of until recently, is being conflated to mean more and more things as the years go by.  What will be next?  

Elsewhere I will talk about how the issue of trafficking reminds me of the way the issue of sex offender lists are out of control.   See that HERE.   A new industry of issue based NGOs is springing up to roll back the abuse that has resulted from the way sex offender lists are spiraled out of control over the last 15 years.  Read that HERE.



I have learned that first world countries have no business offering advice regarding begging.  They just don’t get it.  First world people don’t understand a whole family of four or five on a motor scooter.  (Motor scooters are virtually unknown in America, by the way.)  First world people don’t understand that there is no need for recycling in developing countries because there is an entire subculture of people who “pick trash.”  Those people will be out of work (and out of food for their families) if organized recycling replaces people whose only income is from picking trash for the recyclable items they can sell.

And first world people don’t understand that begging is a way of life; that they are part of the fabric of the community; and they aren’t children that can be shipped off to hospices with no consultation and with no respect.  This is another civil rights issue being abused just as consensual sex between adults is a civil rights issue as it is be treated now if any amount of money is an equalizing factor in the relationship.  Yes, civil rights, not criminal activity.

These kinds of differences are at the heart of understanding trafficking as a migration issue, not just as another way to control the movement of people.




I give to this beggar.  He seems like a very “together” guy.  He is clean, always in the same spot, and with a smile on his face.  I give him a few coins quite often.  But my girlfriend speaks Thai, Khmer, and Laotian and could not interview him for me.  He speaks another language.  He has charisma be a leader of other beggars.  Beggars should NOT be treated as children.  A smarter path could be to help them find leaders of their own and they may very well be their traffickers.



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