DAMASCUS, Oct. 28 (Xinhua) — Instead of sitting behind desks and wearing uniforms to study, street kids in Damascus stand at traffic lights and gather in gardens to practice begging, an effortless job that demands nothing but a sad, sooted face and chubby clothes to stir the emotions of the passersby.
At the first glance, the ordinary people would be tricked into giving those kids money, particularly as Syria has been living a crisis for seven years, and people’s hearts and emotions have overwhelmed their rational reasoning.
Sure all of these kids are miserable, not only because they or their families may have no money, but because they are unfortunate enough that they ended up doing what they are doing without living a proper childhood.
But giving them money is not the solution to relive them, experts say, on the contrary, it gives them the motive to keep doing that to get money and eventually end up on a dark path.
For many, begging has proven to be a profitable profession and kids are the face to hide behind to get the people to pay. Sometimes the numbers of those who take this as a profession overwhelm that of the people who are in a real need.
What proves the idea that begging is largely planned, not spontaneous, is that those kids or even grownups who practice it opt to go to high-end streets and neighborhoods, thinking they could have a better chance with the well-off people.
But the issue hasn’t stopped on the begging only, some street children are turning into early labor, selling bread and tissue papers on streets, and more dangerously many of them are being dragged into more serious problems, such as involving in sex, homosexuality, and drugs.
While there seems to be no wide-scale campaign to address this pressing issue at the time being, with the country in a long-lasting war, some local initiatives have been found by people who want to take action to help reducing this negative phenomenon.
A group of young men and women started an initiative called Sayyar, to try to help the children from being lost to the current circumstances.
Its founders said the idea started when one of the young men in this group was followed by a street girl, offering herself for sex for a handful of money.
Hanadi Qadiri, one of the founders of the Sayyar initiative, told Xinhua they want to help children who were ripped off of their childhood, whether the dropouts that do works such as selling things on streets, or others who are having grownup jobs, like car technicians and other hardcore jobs.
Most importantly, their aim is to help out the kids who are begging for money, and can do anything for a flip of a coin from a car window.
« Our main idea was to work against all the negative phenomena in the society and we started with the first phenomenon, which was the child-beggars trend. Our mission is to try to save the children who have taken begging as a profession as they have become ripped off of their childhood, » she told Xinhua.
But helping these kids is easier said than done, as good intentions are not enough to end dangerous habits, with some parents of those children, have found it a mean to get easy money.
Even the kids themselves don’t seem to have a problem with what they are doing, at least for now.
Qadiri said some families of those kids are opposing the idea of them going back to school or even attend awareness sessions because they want them to work or beg for money.
« I have come to realize that begging has become a profitable profession and some children have suddenly found themselves out of schools, without a home or anything. They have found themselves on the streets, begging or selling bread and God knows what they learn on streets, » she said.
She said those kids learn all of the negative phenomena such as « violence, homosexuality, sex, and harassment as well as stealing and drug abuse so they are completely not in a safe environment and without a safe haven and this situation opens the way for bad people to exploit them. »
Sayyar has managed to convince tens of kids to attend morning activity sessions at their headquarters in Rukn Addien area in Damascus, offering them time to play and to participate in drawing and plays.
But those kids have developed a kind of shield to protect their vulnerabilities, which in most cases is lying about their actual situation.
When Xinhua reporters visited the compound the kids were attending, most of them lied about their situation, willingly or unwillingly.
Most of them narrated a normal-kid story like I go to school, I play in the park and I am fine.
But behind them, the faces of their teachers were changing when hearing the stories of the kids. Some of them even tried to sooth the kids into telling the truth, but not all of the kids bought it.
Tasnim, a 10-year-old girl, confessed that she doesn’t go to school, but hid the fact that she sells bread on the street for passersby.
« I am no longer going to school. I attend a course in the cultural center in the summer and in the winter I don’t do a lot of things, I go to the park to play. I don’t work, » the girl said.
Salem, another 12-year boy, said he sells biscuit on the streets and go to play video games afterward.
« I sell biscuit and also go the bakery to buy bread and sell it to the people. Afterwards, I go to play video games, » he recounted.
Social experts believe that there should be large-scale campaign to collect these kids and rehabilitate them and save them from the miserable childhood, and the dark path toward an uncertain future, especially that recent estimates suggest that around 7.5 million children in Syria are growing up knowing nothing but war.