If you come from a rich country, 20 or 100 baht (20 or 100 baht) is not much for you, and you may think that giving 20 or 100 baht to a beggar or buying flowers from a child will make a big difference for them. Nevertheless, you are wrong. The beggar may not see much of the money, and the child most definitely will not see any of it.
Instead of helping, you are keeping a rotten system alive.
Children Selling Stuff
The children can be incredibly cute when they go around selling garlands. Moreover, they can melt even the hardest heart when they throw a garland over your head, followed by a kiss on the cheek.
However, the children do not do it voluntarily. It is trafficked children, often from neighbouring Burma, Laos or Cambodia. Typically, the traffickers pay the parents a small amount in order to lend their child for a few months or with the promise that the child is trained as a maid or servant or getting an education. However, the children do not get any training as domestic servants nor do they get an education. Moreover, the parents rarely see them again. In other cases, the traffickers simply abduct the children.
The traffickers send some of the children to work in factories around Asia, while they send the charming of them to the streets to sell garlands and other things, for example in the tourist areas of Thailand. If they do not sell as expected, their handlers will punish them with a beating or by giving them less food.
The knowledge of punishment may make you want to help them even more by buying from them or by giving them money. Don't do it! If you do, you might - just might - help the one child standing in front of you to avoid punishment. However, at the same time, you will be complicit in traffickers buying or abducting thousands of other children and then force them to sell stuff or to beg.
The traffickers and the handlers only do it because there is money in it! If there is no money, they will stop to loan or abduct children and force them to work.
The children can look forward to a miserable future. They will receive no education at all, thus, their options are very limited when they become too old to sell flowers. The girls often end up in prostitution while the boys often end up being traffickers and handlers themselves.
In short: When in Thailand, never buy stuff from children. No matter how charming the child is, and no matter how much you want to help. You are only keeping the system alive.
Beggars With a Baby or a Toddler
You will not only see children selling stuff when in Thailand, you will also see beggars using children as a way to melt your heart and give money. You may even see children as beggars without any adults visible nearby when the child is old enough, like around 4 years old.
Typically, you will see a woman beggar with a halfway unconscious baby or toddler in her arms. Again, do not let your heart fool you! Your money will make no difference for the child, which is probably not even the woman’s own child. The beggars use borrowed or traded children. Even if the woman actually is the mother, do you really believe that a woman sitting for long hours with an exhausted child in the sun or late at night will be thinking about the child’s welfare when she is spending the money you give her?
Never give to child beggars and beggars with a child! Again, you are only helping to keep the system alive. You are not helping the children.
Of course, it can vary a lot how much a beggar with a child can make. However, if they find the right place, they can indeed make a fortune. A few years ago, I saw a girl in her twenties sitting with an infant, begging outside a restaurant in a tourist area while I ate there.
If all the passers-by, who gave notes, only gave the smallest denomination (20 baht), and if not counting the coins, then she made a few hundred baht in twenty minutes. It corresponds to a day's wages in a factory. Probably, she did not only get 20-baht notes, and she also received many coins, so it was a good business for her.
In addition, she was not exactly a novice, every time a tourist put a note in her cup, and the tourist had passed, a hand quickly moved the note from the cup and into a pocket, so the cup was empty for the next tourist.
Regarding adult beggars without children, it is a more of a grey area. They may be part of a begging system, where they only get to keep a small part of the money, or they may be begging because it offers a better pay than a real job. However, some may actually be begging out of need, and they may actually get to keep the money you give them.
The problem is that it is impossible to distinguish between the beggars in need, the convenient beggar, and the forced beggar. You may think that the beggar lying on the street without legs and maybe without arms too really needs help. However, consider how he got to that place - it will typically be a place with many tourists, far from where he lives.
Decide wisely, if you get the urge to give something to an adult beggar. Generally, do not give anything, because even if it is a person in temporary distress, then you risk that he will continue to beg instead of getting a job.
If You Want to Give Something
If you want to give something to a child who is selling flowers, or to a child that is begging, then you can give them a soda or a piece of candy, perhaps a small toy.
If you want to give something to an adult beggar, then you can try to give him a bottle of water and maybe some food. Do not be surprised if he becomes more offended than grateful.
Never, ever give anything to an adult who is begging with a child.
You can read more about children as flower sellers and beggars and about two boys who escaped at The New Humanitarian's website.