Thursday, April 26, 2007

The business of begging

Xiao Hua tried to escape from his "parents" but he failed - again.

The 13-year-old has congenital disfigured feet so he can only get around by using his hands and arms to push his body on a simple wooden board with wheels.

His "parents", Gong Baoliang and Wang Sulan found him trying to flee and they dragged him back to his "home" on an overpass in Beijing.

The noise draws the attention of a policeman who is on duty. Xiao weeps, saying the couple is not his parents, but his bosses who have him rented as a beggar.

Xiao is from a poverty-stricken family in Central China's Henan Province. Gong and Wang talked to Xiao's parents, claiming they wanted to take him back to Beijing to have him run their business in Beijing. Thinking their son would have a better life in the big city, his parents agreed and were promised 6,000 yuan (US$779) a year.

But Xiao's life in the Chinese capital was far from prosperous. Gong and Wang's business was in fact forcing Xiao to beg on the streets.

"I have no other alternative but to escape, " he said.

This was the fourth time Xiao tried to escape - and failed. Last winter, he took a train to Shijiazhang, a city in North China's Hebei province after he could not bear the abuse from his bosses.

"I have only one meal every day," Xiao explained. If he was not able to make enough money that day from begging, his bosses will beat him.

Xiao has been begging for five years now. And he has begged in many places, including Chongqing, Hangzhou, Wuhan and Tianjin. Beijing is his fifth city and he has been there for two years.

He is not the only victim of a fast-growing begging business in China. The exploitation of disabled beggars is a common sight in Beijing, on roadsides, overpasses, and bus stops where they try to win sympathy from passersby.

The Chinese government is trying to help beggars out of their dire situations. In 2003, the central government implemented the Management of Street Beggars in Cities plan, with stations that provide food and shelter for the homeless in major cities.

But the aid stations say they need more help in getting the growing numbers of people off the streets.

Although the beggars can get help at aid stations, they would rather stay on the streets where they can make money, says Renmin University Professor Li Yingsheng.

"The poorest beggars who cannot make a living don't want to seek help because they think the station will not solve their problems," he said.

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