I eat ice cream in front of hungry people. As I take a bite, I feel their faces glued to me. They ask for help, but I am not sure if a coin in their cup will make any difference. That’s why I make my way through the sea of people, eating my ice cream and holding onto my guilt.
Poverty is one of the problems challenging Georgia. Since the country left the Soviet Union in 1991, its economy shrank drastically which for a lot of people resulted in a struggle to earn a living. In some cases this struggle has lasted until this very day. Many people beg for money as a way to survive.
What touches me deeply is the children born into such circumstances. Raised in a cycle of poverty and begging, which is crippling them from developing into productive members of society. Their life was decided even before they were born.
‘Instead of playing with his friends, he was forced into child labour’
It was a Friday night when I met Nika. He was selling roses to drunk people in a bar where my friends and I often go. As he approached tables to offer the flowers, clients would usually turn him away without paying any regard to his age or situation. Nika was no more than 13, he was wearing torn clothes, and instead of playing with his friends, he was forced into child labour.
As he offered me a rose, I saw a chance to spark up a conversation. I was sincerely curious why he sells flowers, if he goes to school or not, and what his dreams are. He avoided eye contact while talking to me. This was a hint that he wasn’t keen on disclosing private information.
With a smile and a playful tone I was determined to get more insights into Nika’s life. With a little effort, I learned that his family owns a stall on the Station Square market that sells shoes, which was strange since his shoes were in very bad shape. He told me he sells flowers to make extra money. As it turns out, he also goes to school and likes studying. When he grows up, he wants to own a phone shop on the Station Square.
Soon, he announced his leaving with an excuse that his older brother is waiting for him in front of the bar while he was inside selling flowers. I purchased one as a thank you for his time.
‘Simply giving coins to them won’t make the problem go away’
I didn’t believe Nika. From the way he was talking it seemed like he was telling a story that he had learned by heart. He didn’t feel a connection to what he was communicating, and he was in a hurry to leave ever since I asked his name. This made me wonder if the name he told me was even real.
Unfortunately Nika is one of many examples of kids forced into child labour or begging. In the most central parts of Tbilisi, I have every day encounters with girls and boys grabbing my leg and asking for money. Some of them won’t let go until I give them change. On Trip Advisor, these children were called ‘aggressive beggars’ in some comments, but I assume that if they don’t gather enough money they will get a good beating by whoever sent them there.
This exploitation of children is a cancer for human rights. We have developed filters to ignore their reality on daily basis. And every night we wrap in our covers, we take for granted the fact that we have a comfortable mattress. What worries me the most is that simply giving coins to them won’t make the problem go away. They need proper education to help them advance, proper shelter to stay safe, and good nutrition to be healthy. Maybe a pair of good shoes to make them at least eligible for a job interview.
Lazar Mikov joined the OC Media team as an Intern in April 2017. Previously, Lazar was a volunteer at JumpStart Georgia where he was learning programming. In 2015 he was an EVS volunteer working on UseIt Map Tbilisi.