Help beyond handouts
A series of alleged abuses of the public's charitable spirit and donations has prompted many to think twice before expressing their sympathy through money transfers.
Such caution is welcome. While a sense of charity and obligation to help the less fortunate will always be cherished, a more prudent approach and background checks will make the whole exercise as helpful as intended.
As more scandals emerge, however, a fundamental question has also risen.
Why do Thais who have fallen on hard times -- the poor, the sick, the victims of violence or abuse of any kind -- often have to rely on charity when there are state agencies to handle these problems?
As fear grows that vulnerable groups including young children, senior citizens and the sick could fall prey to people seeking profit from public sympathy, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security must ask itself whether it has done enough.
If the ministry has a Social Assistance Centre complete with a 24/7 hotline and mobile teams to provide assistance to people suffering from social problems, why aren't people using its services?
Setting aside profiteers, the ministry is still probably not the first choice to recommend to people in distress.
Is it a question of trust? A failure to reach out? A lack of success or inadequate manpower?
According to the ministry's website, the social assistance centre extended help to more than 120,000 cases last year or 355 per day. Most of these cases, however, fell into routine categories like giving stipends to newborns, senior citizens and the disabled.
When it comes to serious social problems such as violence, unwanted pregnancy or human trafficking, in 2019 the centre only managed to reach out in 3,000, 251 and 159 cases, respectively.
The question of whether unchecked human empathy and impulse donations could lead to further abuse of children and other vulnerable groups came up following the shocking news about a mother who allegedly fed her toddler bleach to make him look sick to solicit donations and promote online sales of her products.
The 29-year-old woman is suspected of doing the same thing to her adopted baby girl who died earlier after suffering from similar symptoms. The suspect had reportedly earned as much as 10 million baht before she was arrested last week. The woman denied harming the children but admitted to fraud for failing to deliver products promised to customers.
The "bleach mum" scandal came on the heels of another dubious quick-cash generosity scheme involving an old taxi driver supposedly at the end of his tether because of the effects of Covid-19.
The 72-year-old cab driver touched people's hearts when he revealed that he was all by himself, unable to make car payments or buy food. Donations quickly poured into his bank account and the poor taxi driver reportedly received more than 8 million baht in donations overnight.
Before long, people in his community came out alleging that his tales of hardship were not true, and that he simply ran away with the donation money.
While it's true that compassion is what makes us human and help in cash or in kind will always be appreciated, certain problems such as poverty are best tackled systematically.
This is where the ministry must come in and fulfil its duties. It must show people there are ways to tackle social problems that are more effective and more sustainable than charity.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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