For many years, the city streets and highways of Ecuador filled with children in the days leading up to Christmas. The vast majority came from rural communities. They roamed in small groups, knocking on doors or stopping passing cars to beg for something for Christmas. The most heartbreaking side of child begging was on display in the days just before the December holidays, reminding Ecuadorians of the considerable inequities that persist in the country. Along with the blow to one’s dignity that begging represents, these children were exposed to all of the risks associated with wandering though the city or along roadsides alone.
With that being said, the prevalence of child begging in Ecuador during the Christmas season has decreased in recent years. This is no accident but rather the result of a relatively simple but well-thought-out initiative by the Ministry of Economic and Social Inclusion (MIES) [link in Spanish].
The idea was born in 2010 through the campaign Navidad Digna y Solidaria (Christmas with Dignity and Solidarity), which, after its initial success, became a permanent national program that seeks to eradicate child labor and begging. The original initiative focused on identifying beggars’ sending and receiving communities.
Awareness campaigns targeted at the citizens of these communities were carried out through the mass media to request their involvement in two ways. First, preventive actions sought to discourage begging and child labor by avoiding the purchase of products sold by children working on the street and the giving of money to beggars. Second, other actions were intended to build a sense of solidarity among the people and to direct donations to central collection sites. The donations received at these sites are taken to beggars’ sending communities, and they are handed out directly to those most vulnerable, without compromising their safety.
According to data [link in Spanish] from MIES, in 2013 this initiative mobilized support that touched the lives of over 9,200 people. If we imagine that half of these people might be beggars, we are talking about an important result.
The challenges to eradicate extreme poverty and reduce inequality in Ecuador and the region are complex and of considerable magnitude. Nonetheless, initiatives like Navidad Digna y Solidaria demonstrate that even relatively simple but well-planned actions can reduce the prevalence of “seasonal begging” and the exposure of children and other vulnerable groups to the risks associated with this practice.
This week, millions of Latin American and Caribbean households will celebrate Christmas. And so, this holiday season, we’re sending warm wishes to all of our readers and hoping that 2014 is a year to continue building—together—a more prosperous, more equitable and more supportive region.