We all love the Internet, and not just platonically, but it does have its unsavory corners. No, I'm not talking about Pornhub, I'm talking about those videos offering us Moral Improvement™ in the form of 90 seconds of manipulative piffle.
Let's take this example, showing a somewhat dusky-complected 6-year-old child actor on the streets of Tbilisi.
First, she's dressed in shabby clothing. Everyone ignores her. Then, they dress her up in nice clothes, and people intervene to ask where her mother is, if she needs help, etc. They totally ignore a precious, beautiful, pure, innocent, doe-eyed six-year-old girl angel as if she didn't exist, based solely on the fact that she's not dressed nicely.
Conclusion: people -- in this case Georgians -- are monsters.
Damn you, Georgians! Damn you all to hell!
Black-hearted hell-hound that I am, though, I cannot seem to take the moral message to heart, even though it's so superficial simple. Twin demons of Skepticism and Worldly Experience bar the way.
For those readers who don't live in large European cities, let me explain. Everywhere large numbers of people gather -- tourist attractions, train stations, outdoor events, etc. -- you will see many children looking exactly like the one in the video. Dusky complexions, shabby clothes, the whole nine yards. And yes, people will generally avoid and ignore them.
This is because these are gypsy child beggars. And many aren't just beggars, they're thieves as well. How do I know this? Because I personally have been robbed by them twice. Once in Cologne, once in Piraeus.
In fact, I actually wasn't robbed by them in Piraeus, but that's only because I literally kept swatting them away. I was waiting in line for a ferry which had a one-hour delay. A group of 4-5 Roma beggar children were moving up and down the line, snaking in and out between groups of passengers. Some were begging, some were staging diversions, and some were trying to snake their little hands into travelers' bags. People with hard-sided suitcases were relatively safe, but backpacks were much more tempting targets. Two children surrounded my backpack, constantly probing the sides for hard objects, trying unzip pockets and reach under flaps.
They literally paid no attention to me. I shoved them away, and they simply came right back. This lasted for 15 minutes. Only when I began shouting at them, which drew attention, did they finally move on to the next guy. Eventually, a police officer appeared, and they drew back somewhat. He immediately divined what I was shouting about. The guy spoke some English. I asked him why they didn't do something about them. "Eh," he said, "we'd like to, but there are just so many of them, and we don't have enough manpower. Same thing is happening at all the docks. If you make eye contact, they beg. If you have a soft bag, they try to get inside it. Either way, they just keep trying until they get something. They have nothing else to do, and if they don't come back with enough at the end of the day, their boss beats them. Sometimes their boss is their parents. My advice -- get a hard-sided suitcase."
Deciding to play the naive American, I asked whether they shouldn't be in school. "Sure they should, but we have no idea where these ones live. They always run away from us, and even if we catch them, they don't speak Greek or English. They're gypsies, that's what makes a gypsy a gypsy. Their parents are all illiterate, they don't care about school, they just want quick money. They've been living like this for hundreds of years. There are some gypsies who are decent people, but there's lots of them who live from sending their children out begging, and there's nothing we can do about it. Sometimes we raid the camps and register the children, but if we try to force them to enroll in school, almost all of them just move on. A couple stay, though, so there's some progress."
The guy seemed eager to practice his English, and both myself and the rest of the people in line wanted to keep him nearby, since the ferry was nowhere in sight, and he was keeping the Dickensian urchins at bay. I asked him whether they could be taken away from their parents if their parents were proven to be involved in sending them out begging and keeping them out of school. "Nope. We usually can't even determine who the parents are. They often don't have any documents they're willing to show us, they're usually illiterate, and often there's nobody in the entire family who speaks Greek or English, and definitely nobody who's willing to speak it with a cop.
"You can't terminate parental rights if you can't prove who the parents even are. And even then, you're not supposed to take Roma kids away from their culture. Although frankly, if you ask me, if this is Roma culture I say it's not worth saving. There are plenty of Greek families who can't have kids or who have room for one more. These kids could be learning Greek, learning to read, eating properly, going to school, going to the doctor, learning to play sports and finally getting a job and supporting themselves. I'm not going to say they could be going to Church because I'm a Communist. But still, this is no life for anybody."
So I bet if you asked the people in the UNICEF video above, they would say: "I asked them to remove the girl from the restaurant because we have a lot of Roma beggar children here who do exactly what she was doing, snaking between the tables, stealing anything they can find. They are a terrible nuisance we deal with every day. I feel sorry for the children, but they do not want and will not accept assistance, that's not why they're here. Giving to them supports criminal gangs who exploit children. I give to charities that provide meaningful help."
And as much as that 120-second video wants me to think otherwise, I think that's a perfectly fair, rational, and humane response.