The children of today are assets of tomorrow. Yet education, which is a fundamental right to every child in our country, is still a dream for many children in India, especially the ones who are poor, downtrodden and in dire need. Poverty and lack of education are the major factors that lead to desperate acts like child begging, which is one of the most heartbreaking and pertinent problems prevalent in our country. This act of child begging has terribly plagued the lives of thousands of children who have lost their beautiful and innocent childhood by becoming slaves.

It has often been observed that children from lower socio-economic level are more likely to be abused due to parental poverty, and hence are forced to beg so that they can supplement the total earning of the family. Apart from that, certain kinds of rackets are also at play who not only mislead or mistreat these children but even use drugs to sedate them. Handicapped children are often used for begging as this arouses sympathy of the common people. Sometimes, they are even beaten up and physically maimed for this purpose. Religion is also used as a medium for begging where children are dressed in a religious attire carrying pictures of God while begging. This is done to awaken the religious sentiments of the people.

Child begging is something which can be twisted and manipulated by larger forces at work to give it the shape of thriving business as it functions mainly on sympathy-mongering. According to a report prepared by the National Human Rights Commission of India, 40,000 children are abducted each year, which roughly means one child goes missing very eight minute in India, over 25% of whom remain untraced. According to a conservative estimate, more than 3 lakh children across India are forced to beg, using everything from addiction to drugs, to threats of violence and actual beatings. They are the cradle of a multi-million rupee industry that is run by cartels and mafias; and the sad part is that it is not properly addressed by the authorities.

Section 24 (1) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children Act 2000) provides that whoever employs or uses any juvenile or child for the purpose of begging or causes any juvenile to beg, can be imprisoned up to three years and shall also be liable to fine. Those who abet begging are also liable to punishment. Section 363A of the Indian Penal Code provides punishment for a person who kidnaps or maims a minor for purpose of begging.

People like Kailash Satyarthi, who won the Nobel Prize for saving and helping poor children by his Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or J Rama Chandra Sarath Babu who has saved many children from begging. should be our inspiration. Then there are NGOs like Save The Children Foundation, Railway Children, Smile Foundation India, which work tirelessly to rescue as many children as they can. If we can agree that child begging is a serious problem in India, we can also sympathise with them and start working to make a change. As there is extreme darkness in this field, one single ray of hope can make a huge difference.

(The author is a student, 3 years (LLB), Sem-lV, Indian Institute of Legal Studies, Siliguri)