Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
"Piaoliang jiejie (beautiful sister), please buy my postcards!" At the entrance to Angkor Wat, my friend and I were followed again by some shabbily dressed kids. We had encountered too many such kids begging for money or selling souvenirs such as postcards and handicrafts since our trip in Siem Reap, Cambodia, started.
Resistance felt so cruel and callous in front of their sad faces, ragamuffin clothes and fractured Chinese, so we frequently opened our purses. But this time, we were determined not to put any more superfluous postcards into our bags.
The four kids, aged from four to eight years old, competed to win our attention with their yelling and persistence. My friend finally surrendered and handed over them each one yuan to turn them away. Unexpectedly, some begged for more and others seemingly cursed the others for snatching the money.
This incident made me to reflect on misplaced benevolence. It seems so natural and harmless to press a small amount of money into a small hand living in a developing country. Since you have spent thousands on airlines and hotels, why not a few bucks to feed those sad faces a meal? But an unfortunate truth is that this charity might be misplaced.
According to reports by child protection organizations, children in Cambodia are often coerced into the worst forms of child labor such as dangerous agricultural activities like applying toxic pesticides or working on the street as beggwars or vendors. Many even fall victim to sexual trafficking or forced labor.
Official statistics show that about 48.9 percent of Cambodia children between age 10 and 14 were economically active in 2011.
In fact, many Cambodia child-welfare activists and child protection organizations from developed countries have called tourists to say "no" to child vendors and beggars, pointing out that giving money to street children is a short-term solution that adds difficulties to implement the long-term answers.
They believe this actually helps the child labor market thrive and exposes these kids to predators. Their parents could get hooked on the money that a kid can earn, sending them to the street instead of schools.
Later outside another temple, a brother and sister begged for money from us, loudly shouting "I love China, I love Beijing, I love Tiananmen" in Chinese. They are well trained to pick their targets.
There has been discussion in mainstream media and online forums in Western countries on whether visitors should respond to street kids in less developed countries, probing for more effective ways to aid them. Although a surging number of Chinese have contributed to boosting the global tourism industry in recent years, they are newcomers and lack experiences in how to do individual charity abroad.
In some domestic tourism forums, many advised taking some candy and dispatching them to those sympathetic local kids when visiting Cambodia. It's true that at some scenic sites, there are kids requesting candy from visitors. But I observed some Chinese tourists actively offering candy to local kids even when they didn't ask for it. There are dentists engaged in volunteer dental care for Cambodian kids complaining of the increased number of decayed teeth as a result.
Those pitiful and poor kids are hard to resist and they need assistance, but helping them needs far more than getting a thrill out of being benevolent. There are some reputable charities in Cambodia aiming at ensuring more kids receive a proper education at school instead of working on the streets, tourists, if they really want to help those kids, could support those organizations.
More and more Chinese visit African countries and poorer Asian countries every year. How should we conduct individual charity in those countries? Should we give street kids a couple dollars or a few yuan? We need to start talking about these issues.
The author is a reporter with the Global Times. firstname.lastname@example.org