Russian ‘begpacker’ couple arrested in Malaysia after outrage over baby-swinging video
- The man was filmed tossing and waving his baby around by the legs while his companions busk and beg for money from onlookers
Footage of their earlier incident was widely shared on social media, prompting an outcry and a number of people to contact the police.
The baby does not appear to be visibly upset by the rough treatment and nobody intervenes, though a voice can be heard saying in Malay: “stupid, how can you do that?”
Zayl Chia Abdullah, who shared the video on Facebook, said he had spotted the group in Bukit Bintang, a shopping-and-clubbing district in the nation’s capital that is popular with Westerners.
He questioned why the authorities were allowing such behaviour to take place and called for the “street performers” to be arrested.
Although the phenomenon is largely tolerated in Malaysia, this video sparked accusations of child abuse, with many saying online that using a child as a prop to coax locals into parting with cash is unacceptable.
In a comment, Zayl said that bystanders had told the man to stop but “he just pretended like nothing happened. And police? They’re everywhere. But no one bothered hence I shared this”.
Within 36 hours, the video had been watched thousands of times, with screenshots from it also circulating on Twitter. Many criticised the man for being irresponsible, but some defended his behaviour as dynamic baby gymnastics, also known as baby-swinging yoga.
The controversial practice, which is legal and widespread in Russia, sees babies as young as two weeks old swung through the air, tossed and caught – all in the name of “strengthening” them.
Activists and medical professionals, however, argue that the exercises put children at great risk and should be classified as child abuse.
Begpackers have become an increasingly common sight across Southeast Asia in recent years.
They busk, sell knick-knacks or sometimes simply hold a note asking for money to support their wanderlust – inviting a backlash from critics who characterise their behaviour as entitled and privileged.
Some governments have instituted measures to control the trend. Thailand now demands that visitors have at least 20,000 baht (US$638) on them before entry, while Vietnam’s tourism authorities have issued warnings about trying to make money without a work permit.
“They’re like an epidemic now,” said a person from the group who asked not to be identified.
“It’s a new hippie movement, but obviously abusive to the local people … Western people find travelling without money ‘heroism’”.