Photo of a child beggar girl in New Delhi, India.
In New Delhi the public areas provide a hunting ground for this child beggar. Like girls in many parts of the world, she lives in poverty with little acccess to education. Many places like this children work to help support their families instead of attending school. In some cases, the entire family is involved in begging. The family members keep on increasing with marriage and birth and each of them gets into begging on streets or temples. Children of such families do not go to school but only beg.



In the city of New Delhi there are nearly 60,000 child beggars. In the capital of modern India these homeless poor souls roam and remain busy in a hunt for food and pity and the photographer Kristian Bertel captured some of these begging children in this photo essay. Begging is one of the most serious social issues in India. In spite of its rapid economic growth, India is a poverty-driven country, which is also leading to the growth of beggars in the country. They have to do begging because their family’s income is not enough to feed the entire family in a day. Here, poverty is one big reason for such a situation. But at the same time, begging is not the solution for such a situation.

Discrimination of poor children in India
Discrimination among the poor and poor begging children are normal. In fact, they do not come from the same places. The former are from villages around Delhi, and the latter come from further away provinces where Bengali is the main language. Already, a first form of discrimination, typical of the social structure of poverty in India is discernible, where the poorest communities stick together to vie for resources and the best jobs. Even by the standards of urban poverty in India, the living conditions of the pickers are at best appalling. And this is despite their invaluable contribution to the environment and the cities' waste disposal budget. And in slums, the poorest of the poor are unfortunately often not organized into communities anymore. This lack of social fabric makes them all the more fragile to their environment and to any shock with rise in food prices, not finding a job for a few days and so on as they cannot rely on anybody for temporary help. This means that public policies should pay extra attention to so-called poor organizations insofar as they may represent in fact special interests within the larger 'poor community'. Hence the one thing that local governments lack to solve urban poverty in India is ground research.


Photo of the Palika Bazar in New Delhi, India.
As a photographer he photographed in front of the Palika Bazar, where child beggars also were seen. The market is an underground market located between the inner and outer circle of Connaught Place in New Delhi, India. Palika Bazar hosts 380 numbered shops selling a diverse range of items, however, the market is dominated by electronic items and clothing.



Children are begging at the Palika Bazar
Palika Bazar was set up in the late 1970s, but since the 1980s it has seen a decline in customers, in part due to the opening of several new, modern shopping malls all over Delhi. Palika Bazar is estimated to have some 15,000 people within its confines at any given time and also attracts many foreign tourists. It is known as a place with a very level prices. Finding out who needs what, finding out the right people to target and try to represent and seek a consensus on everybody's interests and not only those who can afford to gang up and promote their interests. More, more and more research including the poor is obviously important to solve poverty and know what they need more precisely. But including the poor can be done in different ways ranging from public consultation and cooperation to household surveys rather than coming up with numbers and artificial targets in a top-down manner. The advantage of incorporating direct insights from the poor is to gain both in nuance and thus efficiency regarding the most urgent and effective ways to tackle their problems. More research then becomes essential to target the right people, especially when you consider that the government is generally short of basic information on the state of urban poverty in India.


Photo of a child beggar girl in New Delhi, India.
Begging is one of the most serious social issues in India. In spite of its rapid economic growth, India is a poverty-driven country, which is also leading to the growth of beggars in the country. Most of them come from Bangladesh and some of them are from India. There are few beggars in the country who actually are the real ones, who beg because they are handicapped, because of their inability to work or because they are old or blind or because they really need money for basic needs. There are many others who live far below the poverty line and opt for begging to earn their livelihood.



Chaotic growth in Delhi, India's capital
The case of urban poverty in India has been exemplary in terms of mismanaging or not managing at all urban growth. It is estimated that half a million people in India are beggars. Cities like Delhi have become the best place to foster poverty and destitution at a scale and extent unseen before. Rural poverty is one thing, but urban poverty in India added a whole new breed of revolting aspects to it such as diseases, violence more than at the countryside, disintegration of communities and the social fabric. But building and increasing the size of cities obviously costs billions and India was somewhat short of cash at the time. Consequently, it has decided to radically reduce the public services it offers as well as its investment in infrastructure. You might think 'Okay, but they were broke', but this is where strong political will makes a difference, considering that other countries in the same situation managed very well their transition despite a few controversies.

Children are begging with family members too
The persistence of child labour is due to the inefficiency of the law, administrative system and because it benefits employers who can reduce general wage levels. Between hazardous and non hazardous employment there is counter-productive to the elimination of child labour. Various growing concerns have pushed children out of school and into employment such as forced displacement due to development projects, loss of jobs of parents in a slowdown, farmers' suicide, armed conflict and high costs of health care. Girl children are often used in domestic labour within their own homes. There is a lack of political will to actually see to the complete ban of child labour. Bonded child labour is a hidden phenomenon as a majority of them are found in the informal sector. Bonded labour means the employment of a person against a loan or debt or social obligation by the family of the child or the family as a whole. It is a form of slavery. Children who are bonded with their family or inherit a debt from their parents are often found in agricultural sector or assisting their families in brick kilns, and stone quarries. Individual pledging of children is a growing occurrence that usually leads to trafficking of children to urban areas for employment and have children working in small production houses versus factories. Bonded labourers in India are mostly migrant workers, which opens them up to more exploitation. Also they mostly come from low caste groups such as dalits or marginalized tribal groups. Bonded child labourers are at very high risk for physical and sexual abuse and neglect sometimes leading to death. They often are psychologically and mentally disturbed and have not learnt many social skills or survival skills. An estimated amount of 5.5 million children had been forced in labour in Asia, while the placed 10 million bonded children are in India alone. In recent years the government of India labelled bonded child labour as a marginal problem with only 3000 or so cases.

Child bonded labour in India
Child bonded labour in India is mostly in the agricultural sector but has in recent times been moving into other sectors as well such as beedi-rolling, brick kilns, carpet weaving, commercial sexual exploitation, construction, fireworks and matches factories, hotels, hybrid cottonseed production, leather, mines, quarries, silk, synthetic gems and so on. All children due to their age are considered to be at risk for exploitation, abuse, violence and neglect. But vulnerability cannot be defined simply by age. Though age is one component, Vulnerability is also measured by the child's capability for self-protection. The question that arises is, are children capable of protecting themselves and can children provide for their basic needs, defend against a dangerous situation or even recognize a dangerous situation is developing. These questions call for a redefinition of the concept of self-protection. A child's vulnerability comes from various factors that hinder a child's ability to function and grow normally. Hence self-protection is more about the ability of the child to lead a healthy life within a child protection system for instance the ability to protect themselves or get help from people who can provide protection. The term vulnerable children refer to an age group that is considered at risk. But vulnerability of children is further compounded by the following factors.


Photo of a park in New Delhi, India.
New Delhi is a cosmopolitan city due to the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural presence of the vast Indian bureaucracy and political system. The city's capital status has both the richer middle class and poor. The moment you stop your car at the traffic red light, you see a dirty looking woman with a child in her arm come running to you or a little boy with running nose banging your car window or a handicapped old man asking for alms. This is a common sight in India. You will find many of these people in the railway stations, metro stations, tourist spots, in temples and in many areas where there is a regular crowd.



Child labourers in India
At times, out of sheer pity or out of fear from being cursed by God or out of irritation, we tend to give them some coins or money and shoo them away. India is sadly the home to the largest number of child labourers in the world. The census found an increase in the number of child labourers from 11.28 million in 1991 to 12.59 million in 2001. In urban areas there is a high employment of children in the sari and embroidery industry. Poverty and lack of social security are the main causes of child labour. The increasing gap between the rich and the poor, privatization of basic services and the neo-liberal economic policies are causes major sections of the population out of employment and without basic needs. This adversely affects children more than any other group. Entry of multi-national corporations into industry without proper mechanisms to hold them accountable has lead to the use of child labour. Lack of quality universal education has also contributed to children dropping out of school and entering the labour force. A major concern is that the actual number of child labourers goes un-detected. Laws that are meant to protect children from hazardous labour are ineffective and not implemented correctly. A growing phenomenon is using children as domestic workers in urban areas. The conditions in which children work is completely unregulated and they are often made to work without food, and very low wages, resembling situations of slavery. There are cases of physical, sexual and emotional abuse of child domestic workers. The argument for domestic work is often that families have placed their children in these homes for care and employment.


Photo of a child beggar boy in New Delhi, India. It might seem that we are very heartless in not giving money to a little child begging on the street, but this is one step that we can take to prevent begging. If more and more people come out and take a pledge that they are not going to give a single penny to any beggar, irrespective of their need. Beggary will then be completely uprooted from India. Meanwhile, let the government continue with its poverty alleviation schemes and make India a better place to live in.




Causes for child begging in India
As cities grew, so did the slums,'welcoming' more rural migrants and creating more urban poverty in India. Even though people keep on flowing from the countryside, the government has persisted in not creating enough housing for everyone. Let us not even speak about affordable housing for the poor. However, things are getting better as proportionally speaking poverty has been waning over the past decade or so. Employment generation schemes have been working quite well. The apparition of micro-finance has allowed many Indians to start small businesses and the trend is growing as flows of credit arrive. This has helped only part of the poor, those not too far below the poverty line. For the rest, the poorest of the poor, no government policy, no pro-poor local organization has managed to reach them and help them. The reasons range from social discrimination, where some organizations help only people from their community or social class and caste, to the difficulty to locate the poorest as they often migrate throughout the city in quest of a temporary job. Finally urban poverty in India is convenient to many local authorities as the higher cost of living makes more people fall above the poverty line which is the same for the whole country, urban and rural areas alike. As the poor need to survive in more expensive big cities, they technically have more money than rural residents but they also spend it all very quickly to feed themselves. The Indian poverty line thus shows no consideration of the other aspects of poverty. Homelessness or living in the slums, access to water, electricity, public transportation, job and so on. Surprisingly, and what makes many say that Indian officials do not give a damn about the poor, social housing is still not a very high priority nationwide. What is more, there is no standard definition of slums and the massive lack of research provides no account of the lives of the poor. This way no one knows the real extent of poverty in India.


Photo of a child beggar girl in New Delhi, India.
Poverty also appears differently in different cultures. There are travel countries, in which you can see the poorer population layers little or not at all on the usual tourist routes in India. Also in many Asian holiday countries you can see few beggars, and you will probably not visit poor city districts with your children anyway. The cities here are full of small sellers and shoe-polishers, some of them only four or five years old. An absolute extreme, as far as the visibility of poverty is concerned, is India, especially the northern half of the country. Here you must expect to be attacked permanently and partly aggressively by beggars, often women with babies.



Child beggary everywhere in the city of Delhi
One have to get used to getting street children begging everywhere in the city. At red traffic lights they scratch the windows of the cars at Rajiv Chowk. They pull at the shirts of the passersby. The sight of ragged old people, sick people, maimed child beggars and children in India, who are lying and sleeping in the streets, can not only have a traumatic effect on children. Even people without legs, moving on roller-boards or creeping, surely shock every European child. Here everybody has to decide for himself whether he can or would like this to his children.

Should you give money to child beggars?
When photographing in India the photographer did a lot of thinking before approaching his photographic subjects. "- I have been told many stories of street children who are being exploited by the wrong people who have to surrender part of the amount begged. On the occasion I give something to the street children. So I conclude that my donation benefits the wrong people, instead of the child. At first I often asked myself whether I should give them a little money for instance 30 Indian rupees would be a lot of money for street children. Nevertheless, I decided not to give alms. I wondered where do I start, where to stop and what street-money do I give money to. All I cannot donate, there are too many. But one in a while I thought about that maybe I can ease the hardship of a single street child. I also doubt that, but to give food instead of money seems to most people to be better. But both are not a selfless act. With a donation, one can do something good for themselves, where they can feel better at this moment. The belief that something has been done against poverty facilitates and the question of conscience, why the child has to live on the street, falls into the background", the photographer says. "- In most cases, I manage to stick to my principle and ignore the begging children at Sansad Marg and the Connaught Circus. But once I did not succeed it burned into my memory. Feelings of doubts and helplessness has remained to this day", the photographer says again.

Perhaps your children would like to give their poorer age companions some of their toys. For some children this is a legitimate need. Although this does not, of course, alleviate poverty, gifting can be a nice gesture of international understanding and entails less risk than giving money. For the local children, meaningful gifts are good wooden pencils, dolls, stuffed animals or picture books. Clothing is also usually accepted. This gifting is not a patronizing event, but a friendly conversation or a common game with your children. Thus, children learn not to give up from above and to treat every human being with the same respect. In very tourist places, however, this can be difficult. There gifts are sometimes called for in an almost aggressive way. In India you are often beset by such a large number of children that you can never have enough presents. The well-liked and well-transportable pens are torn out of the hand. But also in retrospect, such a commitment makes moral and educational sense. Now that we have all seen how difficult it is for the people there, we want to help them in the long term. It is more intuitive for children to support a project in a specific country maybe even one that you have discovered there. Some small children with their direct urge to help will still be too abstract. Given this, the confrontation with poverty for children can be a burden or a shock.


Photo of a park in New Delhi, India.
New Delhi is particularly renowned for its beautifully landscaped gardens that can look quite stunning in spring. The largest of these include Buddha Jayanti Park and the historic Lodi Gardens. In addition, there are the gardens in the Presidential Estate, the gardens along the Rajpath and India Gate, the gardens along Shanti Path, the Rose Garden, Nehru Park and the Railway Garden in Chanakya Puri. Also of note is the garden adjacent to the Jangpura Metro Station near the Defence Colony Flyover, as are the roundabout and neighborhood gardens throughout the city.



How do children perceive poverty
Anyone who has been traveling with one's family in developing countries has probably had the experience that especially younger children are less shocked than expected. Often they do not seem to notice the hard living conditions of the locals. This is due to the fact that poverty especially in Asia often hides behind a well-groomed exterior and a surprising joy of life. On the other hand, small children assess things like torn clothes, dirt or simple dwellings less tragically than adults. Most of them are just as naive as their playmates at home. Even child labour is not necessarily recognized as such. Running as a small seller with a sweater through the city, a four-year-old can look like an interesting game. The younger your children, the sooner you will probably want to leave them in this innocent world view. It will not be that easy from the school age. It is also more difficult for you where begging is widespread, especially in India. This is perceived by children of all age groups and brings you sooner or later in explanation and action. If you have to increase your chances of begging with your destination, you should plan a strategy in advance and discuss it with your children. The younger children are, the less they understand why you can not give every beggar something of your wealth. Most of them have an amazing degree of empathy and want to instinctively help them, especially when they are other children. Parents are therefore particularly tempted to give something to the children and often their own conscience. Unfortunately, this is rarely a good idea. Children in particular have to spend the money begun or worked out almost always. In some places, they are rented or even kidnapped. The more a child earns with begging or through child labour, the less likely it is to be sent to school. One can therefore be jointly responsible for alms because a child is given the prospect of a better life. All of this can be made comprehensible to children aged four or five, preferably in advance of the trip, to avoid hasty discussions on the street.

Also, encourage your children to deal kindly with beggars who have not chosen their living conditions. As always, one's own model has the strongest impact. If you are the language of the country, nothing is against a conversation with the begging person, in which one can learn a lot about their circumstances. Not to help at all is not a satisfactory solution for most families. Even if they make a certain contribution to the economy of the country through their journey, many parents have the need to provide direct and visible help for their children. After all, we are the most important moral models for our children. By dealing with poverty in the world, we can lay a decisive foundation for their social and moral development.


Photo of a street vendor in New Delhi, India.
Parents should therefore be well informed in advance of a trip, with which forms of poverty they must reckon in their travel country. The experiences of other traveling families are often more helpful than travel guides, who prefer to focus on the beautiful sides of a country. The younger your children, the sooner you will decide for a destination where they do not see too much of a burden. Through clever travel planning, you can also approach your children gently to the subject of poverty.



Begging in India as a scam
One can look at the child beggars in India statistics, but poverty is just one side of the story. Poverty is real in India but not begging. Begging in India has become a big racket in the country. For many, begging is just like any other profession. They go out to earn money, not by working, but by begging. These beggars are so involved in begging that they do not want to work elsewhere. It is strange but true that some of these beggars earn in thousands and lakhs, much more than a normal middle class worker. It is very difficult to find out who is a real beggar and who is not because looks are very deceptive. Even the children with their dirty faces with pleading looks are properly trained to beg and look real. Sometimes our heart melts when we see a young woman holding her tiny baby, begging on the streets. In most cases, the baby is found sleeping. This is a scam. Many sting operations have revealed that babies are rented to give credibility to begging. Sometimes, babies are drugged for the entire day so that they look sick and they can be easily carried from one area to another by the young women beggars. The beggars are trained to become very persistent while begging that you are bound to give them money. This is especially true for foreigners when they do not know how to react in such situations and ultimately give money to the beggars.
Some of the Indian street youth and the young beggars also become anti-social elements of the country. They get into drugs. To buy drugs, they start with begging first, then slowly graduate to pick pocketing and then move on to bigger scams like robbing. Begging has grown at a significant rate in India. It is estimated that half a million people in India are beggars. The government, varied organizations, activists claim that many measures have been taken to abolish begging and it has been successful to a certain level. But the trend of begging still continues.

Children's rights in India
As minors by law children do not have autonomy or the right to make decisions on their own for themselves in any known jurisdiction of the world. Instead their adult caregivers, including parents, social workers, teachers, youth workers, and others, are vested with that authority, depending on the circumstances. Some believe that this state of affairs gives children insufficient control over their own lives and causes them to be vulnerable. It has also been described as a legal machinery, as it applies to children, as 'repressive state apparatuses'. Structures such as government policy have been held by some commentators to mask the ways adults abuse and exploit children, resulting in child poverty, lack of educational opportunities, and child labour. On this view, children are to be regarded as a minority group towards whom society needs to reconsider the way it behaves. Researchers have identified children as needing to be recognized as participants in society whose rights and responsibilities need to be recognized at all ages. Economic, social and cultural rights, related to the conditions necessary to meet basic human needs such as food, shelter, education, health care, and gainful employment. Included are rights to education, adequate housing, food, water, the highest attainable standard of health, the right to work and rights at work, as well as the cultural rights of minorities and indigenous peoples. Environmental, cultural and developmental rights, which are sometimes called 'third generation rights', and including the right to live in safe and healthy environments and that groups of people have the right to cultural, political, and economic development. Parents affect the lives of children in a unique way, and as such their role in children's rights has to be distinguished in a particular way. Particular issues in the child-parent relationship include child neglect, child abuse, freedom of choice, corporal punishment and child custody.

There have been theories offered that provide parents with rights-based practices that resolve the tension between 'commonsense parenting' and children's rights. The issue is particularly relevant in legal proceedings that affect the potential emancipation of minors, and in cases where children sue their parents. A child's rights to a relationship with both their parents is increasingly recognized as an important factor for determining the best interests of the child in divorce and child custody proceedings. Some governments have enacted laws creating a rebuttable presumption that shared parenting is in the best interests of human right for children.

Something can be done to help child beggars
India has set in place various forms of public policy concerning child beggars over the past two decades, but they have largely been ineffective because they are uniformed by sociological, anthropological, and geographical research on child beggars, meaning they do not always correctly assess and address needs. Save the Children India is an organisation that works for rights of children including child education and child protection in India. If you can regularly give beggars small handouts of money, you can definitely afford a small amount to donate to charity that can help children from begging in India.

Photography online from many places in India
Danish photographer Kristian Bertel is recognized as an photographer and his photography is online a lot of places. This gripping new series of photos from India will tell the stories of the people living in different communities around India, as seen in this child beggars essay and photo essay. India is a country full of opposites. Secondly, sometimes there is a simple explanation for the crassest contrasts. In India there are all sorts of people on the way, besides child beggars there are also many other people. Suffering and love, curiosity and pride. This India, in all its contrast, with all its contradictions, has also been experienced and felt by the photographer. In 2008 the photographer was there for the first time, and so overwhelmed that he had traveled to the country again some years later to take photographs there again. The result is a highly unusual performance called 'India', which relies entirely on the power of his photographs and therefore with the exception of a few introductory lines does not include explanations, page numbers and comments. One is banned from the first to the last picture. From the snake charms and grandmother portraits with the radiant eyes, from which sorrow and love, curiosity and pride spray. From street scenes, which show the plentiful Indian life, garbage and misery inclusive, without however deter. From deserted cities and landscapes, which, with their soft coloring, look like paintings and yet are anything but a picture book beauty.

From piles of fire and public toilets, with a lot of smell. Capturing odors in photos is almost impossible, but that did not prevent me from trying to do it, and in some pictures he even succeeded. Oppositions are a common thread. Really. Rarely has images of such power and magic been seen across India. They disturb the viewer, on the one hand, and yet, on the other hand, they are astonishingly beautiful. On the one hand, they are ruthlessly direct, but on the other always respectful, because they do not expose the person concerned. In the photographer's work there is a common thread of humanity throughout his travels in India and through the whole photo series and he regularly takes the humanitarian look at India. Before and after each photograph, he took a strong thought of the situation. For further information, please:
Contact the photographer

More photographs from India
Humanitarian photography that also concerns child rights can be seen in more of his photos on Kristian Bertel | Photography | Facebook with stories from India. In the slideshow below, which also appears on the photographer's website you can moreover see a range of photos from India collected in a gallery that are representing India.
See the slideshow | press here