There is no such thing as a harmless dollar when it’s pressed into a small hand on the streets of any town in a developing country. This may seem harsh, as after all a dollar will surely get them and their family a meal for the day, which they clearly seem to need, or will pay for the kid to go to school and that can’t be bad at all, can it?
The unfortunate truth is that yes it is bad. Put brutally, the only person helped in this transaction is the visitor who gets to feel virtuous for a while, believing they have done something to resist this dreadful poverty they can see all around them. It’s a completely human and understandable response, it doesn’t make anyone a bad person, but it’s still wrong and here’s why.
Giving to street kids is a short-term solution that ensures that long-term answers are more difficult to implement. It helps to ensure that they stay poor for the rest of their lives and, as uneducated parents, means that their children will probably be just as poor too. It ensures a thriving labour market for young children who should not be working, many of whom are not from Siem Reap at all but brought in from other provinces to work the streets. Worse yet, working on the streets not only impairs their education, it exposes these children to predators: traffickers, drug dealers and child sex tourists.