He had tears in his eyes and a look of desperation on his face; a boy I encountered on a street in Georgetown a few weeks ago. He appeared to be about thirteen years old.
“Aunty please for a hundred dollars so ah could buy something to eat.”
“Where’s your father?”
“I don’t know. He never tek care a me.”
“Who do you live with?”
“My grandmother but she old.”
I gave him some money and was on my way. For a while after, there was an empty feeling within me; a sadness so intense that all I could do was sigh and shift my thoughts to something else.
Usually when I encounter children begging on the streets, I do not give them money. It is no secret that children approaching strangers, makes them vulnerable to all sorts of dangers.By not giving them money, I believe that I am doing my part by not contributing to their possible detriment; it is a silent hope that if enough people say no, these children would disappear off the streets.
But I’ve often had to ask myself: What if they really need the money? What if my refusal means a child goes hungry? Does walking away make me a contributor to a failed system? I have had to remind myself that ignoring the problem does not make it go away.
Somehow, the sincerity of the boy moved me and I broke my rule of never giving money to children on the streets. Thinking back to the encounter, I regret that I did not take his information but ugly realities are ones we cannot always face head on because they are too painful to bear. The despair of many young children who are birthed and then neglected or forgotten is one such reality.
Later, as I evaluated the incident I wondered about what would happen to the boy when his grandmother passes away. I wondered about the future he would have. I wondered about what the relationship was like between his parents and if his state of being would have been better had his father taken the responsibility to nurture him.
To me, there is something that is unforgivable about any parent who deserts their children. In Guyana, most children who face abandonment from a parent, face it from the man. Such desertion can trigger a trail of negative events in the lives of those children, such as abuse or a life of crime. However, chances are also that such children could turn into fine adults.
The number of single-parent households led by women is alarming. While there are women who set out to raise their children on their own, that is most often not the case. There are those whose partners would have died. Sometimes, it happens because of divorce. Sometimes, it happens outside of a marriage. Sometimes, it’s simply as a result of a man who does not want to take on the responsibility of doing his part because of selfishness.
It is comforting that such men are a minority. In our society, we see men who recognise that regardless of whether the relationship with the woman lasts or not, they are obligated to take care of the children. We see men who would go without to make sure that the needs of their children are met. We see men who recognise that taking care of a child is not only about making sure that their material needs are fulfilled, but also their emotional needs. We see men who recognise that their presence creates balance in the lives of their children.
Over the years, I’ve heard many excuses from men who abandoned their children.
“I never tell she I want children” or “is nah me own” or “if she want a DNA test she gah pay for it” or “I gave she money to do de abortion and she didn’t do it.”
Such statements indicate a lack of maturity and it exposes the fact that many times when people get into relationships, they do not discuss long term plans or there is disparity in what they want out of the relationship. We would like to believe that people would think before making life-changing decisions, such as having children, but the fact is situations that are not planned occur and it is the onus of those involved to rise to the challenge.
However, there is a problem when a child who is brought into this world is seen as a mistake or a problem because two people did not take precautions. There is a problem when a young girl or boy realises that their parents cannot fulfill their needs and they have to shoulder the responsibility of providing for themselves. Children who should be enjoying their childhood should never be made to feel the brunt of hardships because the adults in their lives failed them.
And the abandonment of children is not only an issue among the poor in any society. There are many broken people who had all the material things they needed but suffer emotionally because their fathers or mothers were not there or their parents had a dysfunctional relationship.
Having lost my father at an early age, I know firsthand the longing that is created when a parent is missing. I know the many questions children who deal with not having a parent ask: “Did they love me?” “Why did they leave me?” “Was I not good enough?” These are questions children should never have to ask but too often they are the burdens they carry as they grow.
People have to start being responsible in their actions. Time must be spent on knowing a person before the decision is made to have children and the decision must be mutual. No one should ‘lay and play’ without taking precautions if they know they do not want or are not ready to have children.
It is my dream that someday children begging on the streets would be a thing of the past. I hope that one day we will live in a world where only responsible adults would have children. Some may say that it is an impossible dream, but the hope for a better future is what motivates us to keep living.
The time of ignoring children seeking help on the streets has long expired. It is time we come together as a nation to do whatever we can to help abandoned children whether they find themselves on the streets or not. If we continue to turn a blind eye, they stand the chance of being lost forever in a society that has failed them.