The Oscar winning film, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, highlighted the plight of hundreds of thousands of children in India who are being forced to beg by mafia-style gangs. There are an estimated 300,000 child beggars in India, although some organisations claim it is as many as a million. Every year, 44,000 children fall into the clutches of the gangs.
Many of them are deliberately maimed. Arms and legs are forcibly amputated, others are cruelly blinded. The gangs also pour acid on to children’s bodies leaving them with suppurating wounds. The more they are tortured or tormented, the more sympathy they gain when they beg. They are trained to approach certain kinds of people and use certain mannerisms, to extract even more money. There are many child beggars who are not mutilated, but those with the worst injuries make the most money, earning up to ten times the amount that millions in India survive on each day.
Of course the children do not see any of their earnings. These are handed over to the gangmasters, and if a child does not make their target that day they are beaten and tortured.
Almost all the child beggars are addicted to solvents, alcohol and charras (powerful Afghan hashish often laced with opium). This helps the children to forget where they are, but it also helps the gangmasters to keep them under control.
Maimed child beggars are terrified of speaking out – they say their limbs just disappeared or were damaged in an accident. The beggar mafia make more than £20 million a year, and this kind of money and power ensures that complaints to the police don’t get anywhere as gangmasters bribe their way to immunity.
The children who are the most vulnerable to gangmasters are Dalits, due to their poverty and how lowly they are regarded in society. But whether they are kidnapped or sold into beggary, it is too high a price to pay.