In Kolkata, an ‘agency’ that supplies child beggars

July 23rd, 2008 - 11:39 am ICT by IANS  

By Sreya Basu
Kolkata, July 23 (IANS) It is a dark tale of beggary involving children as young as one. Every day, an agency - if it can be called one - networks between impoverished parents from West Bengal’s rural areas and beggars in the city to supply children for collecting alms. Pathshishu, the five-year-old agency, takes the children to the beggars in the morning and returns them to their parents in the evening - all for a fee of course. Never mind that it pushes children as young as one into the dark industry of begging or that it is a form of child labour.

“There are so many poor families in West Bengal’s villages that fail to provide for their wards. At times there are as many as six children in a family. Every dawn they bring their kids to us and we distribute them among the city beggars,” Montu Pal, owner of the agency, told IANS.

“Throughout the day the children stay and beg with them, and return home in the evening.”

Pal said there is a great demand for “helpless-looking” children, which makes the beggars outsource them from rural areas.

“In this way both parties are satisfied - the parents don’t have to bother about food and drinks for their wards, at the same time they earn money from beggars who hire the kids.

“Most of the children come from West Bengal’s rural areas of Panskura, Uluberia and Andul. The demand is the highest for babies as small as one - and their parents are given as much as Rs.100 per day. The next in-demand age group is two-five years, who get a daily pay of Rs.50.”

How much does the agency draw from the two parties?

“There are two ways of working with us - on a monthly or a daily basis. At the moment we have a monthly contract with about 1,000 families and over 2,000 beggars.

“Both parties pay us 30 percent of their monthly income respectively. Besides, there are a number of daily clients who have to pay us 20 percent of their earnings.”

Explaining the detailed procedure, Pal said: “Every morning at 4 a.m., parents bring their children to city-based railway platforms at Sealdah, Garia and Sonarpur Stations. Beggars crowd around these places.

“Our representatives take down the details of both the parties and hand over the children to the beggars. The children are returned to their parents by 5 p.m.”

But doesn’t the police ever try to stop them? After all child labour is a crime.

“We are not bothered about police interference. A Rs.100 or Rs.500 note is enough to get rid of them. Besides, we are very careful.”

Sure enough, a Government Railway Police (GRP) official at the Sealdah railway station said they had heard of such an agency but never come across it.

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