Are beg­ging women with kids of a lesser God?

CityPress - - Voices - MBUYISELO BOTHA voices@city­press.co.za

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.

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

PHOTO: LEON SADIKI

DES­PER­ATE TO SUR­VIVE It’s not un­usual to see a wo­man with a child beg­ging at an in­ter­sec­tion in SA’s cities

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