CULTURAL MUSINGS — By Arwa Al Hinai — A friend of mine was telling about an incident that she encountered lately. She said that as she drove through an old neighbourhood in one of the areas in Muscat, she witnessed a scene which both she and I continue to find very disturbing and sad. She saw children as young as three years old running around the street barefoot. Some of them were sitting on cars, while others were playing tag. She also saw a group of boys bullying another younger boy. When she stopped her car in order to tell the bullies to stop harassing the boy, she was met by vulgar language from the gang. The whole neighbourhood was in chaotic state. “Where were these children’s parents?”, she asked me. “At home perhaps?” was the best answer I could give her. As an Omani, I feel that we have become accustomed to seeing this sight. However, I always ask myself the same question: Why are these children running around the streets unsupervised?
My friend’s story reminded me of an occurrence I personally keep coming across on a very regular basis. There are certain places in Muscat that are infested with what I call “Beggar Children”. These poor children were forced by their cruel circumstances and ruthless parents to roam around in the scorching heat and ask people for money. A while ago, they used to sell incense which people bought in order to lend a helping hand to these less fortunate children. However, as time passed, I have come to notice that these children have stopped selling and, instead, have resorted to straight up begging. They walk all the way to a person and, in what seems to be a very well-rehearsed story, begin to tell their tale. I must admit, I find it extremely heart-breaking to see a six-year-old boy — who happens to be very undernourished that I wouldn’t know he was six had I not asked how old he was — beg with tears in his eyes for 1 Rial. I see those tears as tears of desperation and hopelessness. Yet I know that somewhere out there, the parents of these children are monitoring their every move with their watchful eye and are waiting for them to come back with the “spoils” they have earned. These undeserving parents use their children as pawns to make money. They teach them how to rely on begging rather than education and hard work to make a living. What I find extremely alarming is the fact that these children are found roaming around the streets when they are supposed to be sitting at their desks in schools acquiring knowledge!
These poor children are being deprived of their basic right to learn. Instead of being able to go to school and receive the education that they deserve, they are forced to spend their childhood on the streets asking strangers for money. What fault did they commit for them to pay such a miserable price? Why should their lives be endangered by reckless drivers and psychopaths just to make a few Rials?
As an Omani citizen who is extremely concerned about the well-being of these neglected children, I urge those in power to acknowledge this serious problem our nation is facing. As the saying goes: ”Awareness is empowering”. According to my experience and many of whom I have had this discussion with, the number of these beggar children is on the rise. Not to mention the fact that the holy month of Ramadhan is approaching which may lead to an increase in the number of these cases. The aim is to ultimately stop this phenomenon that has swept across the capital. In my opinion, one child beggar is one too many. Disregarding and ignoring this problem will only make it worse. These parents or whoever is in charge of making these children undergo this terrible acts. Not only do they teach them the dreadful habit of begging, but they are also jeopardising their safety by exposing them to all sorts of dangers. Kidnap, theft, drugs, bad influence, those are the types of dangers that these children are facing, to say the least. Extreme punishments must be imposed by the higher authorities on any individual who uses children as a means to make money. The issue of “Beggar Children” is a clear violation of the Declaration of the rights of the Child that states: “The child shall be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation” and, most importantly, it should not exist especially in a country that is blessed with rich resources and wise leadership. Some might argue that desperate needs call for desperate measures. I would agree if the case didn’t involve children. Why should the children be held accountable for something the adults should know better about? Nevertheless, I am optimistic that change will come and that these unfortunate children’s silent call will be heard. Lastly, I would like to direct a question towards these unsympathetic parents: is making a few Rials worth losing your children for?