Views And Reviews

Small change

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: (Published 13 August 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:485
  1. V Warren

    Call me old fashioned if you like. Accuse me of being over fond of motherhood and apple pie. Nevertheless, I shall stick to my position - I don’t like children begging on the London Underground.

    There are several aspects to this. One is technical - I don’t use the Underground a lot, and then only a few of the lines, so my sample is both small and biased. That said, the sight of children begging seems to be associated with the Northern Line. Can it be that these poor children's self esteem is so low they seek the camouflage of truly grotty surroundings and can’t bring themselves to try their skills on the well maintained lines?

    Another is the contrast which must exist between these children's lives and my children's lives. The boy who approached me on the way to the Elephant and Castle the other week was about the same size as my son. They were 80 miles and a world apart. I realised I was thinking of them as plants - the one etiolated in the artificial light, the other strong in the sunshine, at that moment probably playing traditional games on the grass of the school playing field between the row of blossoming conker trees and the square towered church.

    And who cares for this boy? Who does he play with? Does he play? Does he ever go to school? The card with which he was silently begging said one parent was dead, the other in hospital, and that he had two sisters to look after. At least he has some family round him then. Our primary school, the one which on the other axis is between the village pub and pond and an organic farm where cows and calves wander together in the meadow, may be a bit tatty and short of books and whatnot, but is strong on loving care. The four teachers nurture all the children personally. It would be noticed if you were skiving to support your sisters.

    The last aspect is the attitude of the other people in the carriage. They ignored this child. Pointedly. They didn’t ignore me when I reached into my briefcase for my purse and the apple I had with me for the train journey home. I had let the side down. I was a gullible twit who didn’t realise that this professional beggar was part of an organised ring who would be driven off in a BMW at the end of his shift.

    Even if these cynics were right, what sort of society is it that sanctions such use of children? A very difficult one to live in. One has to tread the line between the James Bulger witnesses and the woman recently who stopped to pick up a boy thumbing a lift thinking that she couldn’t live with her conscience if she subsequently read that he’d been murdered, only to discover to her cost that he was the decoy for a mugging team.

    So what is the correct intervention? I rest my case at a cash donation, a defiant look at the rest of the carriage, and bringing the matter to your attention. And I hope they let him enjoy the Gala. Crunchy and tasty, they are.

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