In my travels through the U.S., I haven't seen child beggars. I've seen old people, teens, but not kids under 10 years old.
But when I travel internationally, I have seen it, in China, Thailand, Mexico, Jamaica and the Philippines. One thing I notice if you give any attention to any one of them, suddenly they swarm.
There were several memories that stuck with me. One was in the Philippines. I was standing at a counter waiting to pick up some medicine for my stomach. In the Philippines the pharmacy can be in a corner and just nothing but a counter top and you have to catch the cashier's attention so you can give her your script. There are no such thing as "taking a number".
I was standing waiting for them to process my order when I felt a tug at my t-shirt. It was a small boy about 5yo with his hand out. I looked down on him and in just the space of two blinks, suddenly I was surrounded. I made the mistake of giving the kid a bread roll and suddenly other kids came out. My cousin looked at me and sighed before she shooed the kids away. As she was doing that, a woman approached me with her hand out and she was holding a baby. I made the mistake of smiling at the baby, making it smile back at me. But having learnt my lesson, I didn't give anything more. I turned my head and in that quick turn, I saw the beggar woman punch her baby's leg until the baby shrieked in pain. I looked at her dead eyes in disbelief. I let my cousin lead me away. That baby's tears still haunt me.
The other time was in Bangkok. I was staying at Sukhumvit Soi 11, within walking distance of the red light Nana "entertainment" area. So I had gotten used to some surprising scenes.
At night the sidewalks along Sukhumvit explodes with rows and rows of tables and wares. From pirated DVDs to monkey & elephant trinkets, scarves and yes even samurai sword sets for $50. I once passed by a table full of what looked like child pornography. I watch a man looking though them and said loudly "That's disgusting!" Then under my breath "pervert."
Then one night, as I came strolling home from dinner, it was around 10p. I saw a 6yo girl watching over her 2yo sister, settling her in a box so she could go and beg. I watched her silently, her face angelic as she tucked her sister in the box with some toys and a bottle. But as she tended to her baby sister the look on her face was that of a much older being.
As she prepped for her begging, she got an intense look on her face that was unforgiving, determined, relentless and thoroughly cold. When a man appeared, her face metamorphosed into an innocent with big startling eyes of grief and hunger. Then when she got her money, she counted out her coins with the intensity of a banker. When I think of her, my heart still bleeds. I don't know what I could have done. I still don't know what to do to help them.
So I go on my merry way, far removed from their suffering and I wish I knew what to do.