Guest Column

Are begging women with kids of a lesser God?

2017-04-09 06:13
It’s not unusual to see a woman with a child begging at an intersection in SA’s cities Picture: Leon Sadiki

It’s not unusual to see a woman with a child begging at an intersection in SA’s cities Picture: Leon Sadiki

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Mbuyiselo Botha

Women with children begging on the side of the road are a sight that evokes an emotional response and an ethical dilemma, which is agonising for those with a conscience.

At the same time, there are those who choose to openly express contempt “for mothers who abuse their children by using them to solicit sympathy and attention from motorists”.

An occasional unflattering comment comes from an irate taxi passenger when it stops next to a blind woman holding an empty can towards an open window with one raised hand, while being led by a child by the other hand.

This image replicates itself in large cities in South Africa.

It seems that everywhere you look, there is a woman with one or two children asking for hand-outs at robots.

Some of these women are blind, but the majority are able-bodied.

A snap poll published in a local daily newspaper recently shows that the majority of the women who beg alongside children on the streets are from Zimbabwe.

A Zimbabwean official was quoted as saying that he wasn’t aware of that fact.

One would expect that the role of the Zimbabwean high commissioner in South Africa would be to assist destitute Zimbabweans, including women and children, but they are clearly on their own.

South African officials, on the other hand, are confronted with the issue of the child and how the law defines child abuse, including using a child to beg on the street.

Or, to be more precise, people ask the question: “Why are these women allowed to abuse children by subjecting them to the elements, such as the scorching sun in summer and cold weather in winter?”

These are questions members of the public keep asking, but no official response has been forthcoming.

Nobody wants to take responsibility

Often, these women and children have no access to food and water, and are simply at the mercy of passing motorists – who may or may not give them something to eat.

In terms of our Constitution, all children of school-going age need to be in class, and all poor children have a right to nutrition and shelter.

No child should be begging on street corners to survive, which is why government pays child support grants to poor families.

But it seems that, when it comes to the women and children at robots, nobody wants to take responsibility.

Social workers who don’t want to take a stand say the children are better off with their mothers, which actually means that children are better off starving next to their mothers.

Maybe the social workers know that what is happening at robots is a mammoth challenge that they are not ready to tackle because they don’t have the capacity.

It is on record that South Africa has a shortage of social workers, and the high number of abandoned babies ensures that the women begging with children on street corners, at least for now, are not a priority.

The question I keep asking myself when this issue is raised is: “Are these women and children of a lesser God?”

It seems that they and their children are on their own.

They are criticised for having babies and are vilified for begging with their children. It seems these poor women cannot win.

They are damned if they try to survive and damned if they don’t.

It’s open season on them. Something nobody seems to ask is where the fathers are while the women and the children they brought into this world are struggling by the roadside?

It is, again, the woman who has to bear the brunt of society’s contempt for trying to survive under difficult circumstances.

These women must be supported for not turning their backs on their children by abandoning them, although even those women need our support and prayers.

These women are no different from those who polish the chairs at a family court because men refuse to take responsibility for their children and help with child support.

Hundreds of thousands of women in this country find themselves alone and humiliated, and are forced to spend long hours waiting at family courts because men just refuse to be part of their children’s lives – physically, emotionally and financially.

Society can’t just allow itself to be indifferent to the plight of female street beggars, especially those who have a child or children next to them.

We need to put pressure on the authorities to help find shelter and nutrition for them to ensure that they don’t find themselves humiliated on the roadside because they are trying to survive.

Rather than throw them a snide remark about the absent father, throw in a R5 coin or give them food parcels and clothing to help them.

Your duty is not to condemn them; it is to help them and alleviate their plight.

Botha is a part-time commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality

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