2017-01-04 11:58:44

Teachers and students at Shanghai’s prestigious Fudan University have kicked off a social media campaign to raise awareness about the country’s many child beggars.

Titled “One-Minute Action,” the campaign calls on people to spend 60 seconds of their time interacting with child beggars on the street, posting their apologies to the children on social media, and adding their own photos to an online collage of child beggars’ faces. The campaign started Jan. 1.

“Child beggars are one of the more easily neglected groups in daily life,” campaign organizer Xu Jie, a doctoral student at Fudan and director of the charity House of Enlightened Needs, told Sixth Tone. “Once, a child told me that he felt he was losing face when begging,” she said, adding that she hopes all of these children will gain a sense of dignity if they are shown respect.

“We hope that in the new year, the public will pay more attention to them,” Xu said.

Xu and her team put together a map titled “Children’s Dignity” that documents incidences of children begging in provinces and cities around the country. “The majority of cases happen in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen,” she said, listing four of China’s largest cities. Xu said House of Enlightened Needs wants to expand the map to include other forms of youth mistreatment, such as school bullying and child labor.

A map made by House of Enlightened Needs shows the number of child beggar videos collected in certain regions of China. (Note: The image presented is not a complete map of China.) From Enlightened Needs’ official website

A map made by Enlightened Needs shows the number of child beggar videos collected in certain regions of China. (Note: The image presented is not a complete map of China.) From Enlightened Needs’ official website

But despite House of Enlightened Needs’ good intentions, many have questioned whether the campaign will truly improve the lives of child beggars. “The organizers just want to attract eyeballs instead of providing help, and they are truly oblivious to the child beggars’ plight,” 25-year-old Shanghai resident Xu Tianyin told Sixth Tone. “It’s very melodramatic to apologize to these children on social media. It’s more for appearance than actual assistance.”

“I’m afraid that this activity won’t have any actual effect,” Lu Mengchen, a Fudan graduate student, told Sixth Tone. The 23-year-old pointed out that the campaign doesn’t address the issue of criminals forcing children to beg. “It’s true there are lots of beggars, but it’s hard to tell how many are organized by gangs,” she said.

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, Chinese authorities and nongovernmental organizations helped 47,000 child beggars in 2015 and 170,000 in 2014. Dealing with homeless children is often difficult, as the children may not know where their hometowns are or have anybody willing to take care of them. Sometimes, parents purposely send their children to cities to beg or even join criminal gangs. In December 2016, several parents from central China’s Hunan province were found to have rented their children to a group of criminals to work as thieves.

In 2015, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, together with China’s national security departments, published a document saying that parents who forced their children to beg or carry out illegal actions would be deprived of guardianship.

Cheng Fucai, deputy director of the Youth and Juvenile Studies institute at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told Sixth Tone that most child beggars migrate to cities from the countryside, adding that they often lack the skills necessary to protect themselves.

“We should rouse people’s awareness of the problem so they will take the responsibility to intervene and report cases to the police,” Cheng said. “And the country should also improve the welfare security system for children to help solve this problem.”

On microblog platform Weibo, users had their own suggestions for the campaign. “Compassion is useless,” wrote one user. “The Fudan students should talk to these children one by one, ask their family backgrounds, and report anything suspicious to the police.”

Additional reporting by Li Mengxin.

Correction: The charity behind the campaign is called “House of Enlightened Needs,” not “Enlightened Needs.”

(Header image: Two children beg on a motorway in Shanghai, Nov. 3, 2007. Lu Haitao/Sixth Tone)