Beggars who use children give cause for concern

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 February, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 February, 2002, 12:00am

Like many people in Hong Kong, I have watched with interest the regular cast of panhandlers that congregate around the Star Ferry Terminal.

One recent Sunday I witnessed one inveterate elderly woman who I have seen panhandling for years in that area walk into the HKPU Dymocks bookstore and plunk down a large bag of change in exchange for notes from the cashier. Being an inquisitive sort, I inquired with the cashier and was told that the woman in question exchanges between $500 to $700 in change each day at that very store. I don't begrudge them the money and I am sure they have tough lives, but I wonder if there are some that are less public, yet more deserving.

My reason for writing this is that I have noticed a new escalation in the panhandling trade in the Star Ferry area. Enterprising individuals have taken to using small children with birth defects to tug at the heart strings of passers-by. In particular, I have noticed a small baby with a rather pronounced and readily correctible cleft palette in the hands of various panhandlers. In Hong Kong, there is no reason that a child should live with such a birth defect. In particular one that can have an impact on a child's development.

I suspect this child is being exploited as a prop for financial gain, which makes me ill. I challenge the police and the Department of Social Welfare to put a stop to it.