MANY people frequent the restaurants near Tesco Ipoh Garden for the good food or to spend with friends and family.
But between all the chattering and munching going on, it is not uncommon to see young children making their way through the restaurants selling various products such as peanuts, perfume, pens, tissue, torchlights and notebooks.
This often goes on till the restaurants close and the last of the customers have left.
During a night visit by MetroPerak to one of the restaurants earlier this week, a boy was seen trying to sell peanuts to customers in the establishment. A few moments later, the boy was joined by a young girl.
When approached, the boy asked MetroPerak’s reporter if he wanted to buy nuts.
Asked how much a packet cost, the boy answered RM2 for any kind of peanuts and went on to say that he had not sold any of them since he started his shift.
“Anna (big brother in Tamil), please buy. I need money to buy dinner and my family at home is also struggling,” he said.
Asked about his situation, the boy, who only wanted to be known as Ram, said he has been selling peanuts for the past two years and he is doing it because his mother needs extra income as she only does odd jobs to feed the family.
“Some people shoo me away or scold me because they think I am being a bit too pushy, but I do so because I need money for my family.
“I go to school but some days I skip school because I work till 3am. I have no choice but to do this,” said the 10-year-old boy, who spoke in Tamil.
Ram denied that he works for a syndicate and said he does so of his own free will just to make sure he can do his part to help feed his sister and mother.
A parent who was observing the conversation then decided to buy a few packets of peanuts from Ram and told him go home early so that he could go to school the next day.
The parent, who only wanted to be known as Mani, said he overheard the conversation and decided to help the boy.
“I felt bad when he said he had to feed his family. He looked sincere to me and that’s when I decided to buy some packets to ease his burden.
“It’s not only him, I see many other kids out there doing this. I don’t know whether syndicates are using them or they are really poor, but children should not be wandering around at night.
“It is not safe for them and at the age 10, they should be studying or having fun with their friends,” he said.
Another girl who was also trying to sell peanuts appeared to have tears in her eyes as she approached people and told them that she needs money for her education.
“I need to buy books and stationery for school. I cannot go empty handed... Please buy some peanuts and help me,” she said.
When asked about her background and family, she refused to answer and went to another table.
A patron of one of the restaurants said many children come to the area and try to sell their products, but he believes that they are not under the control of syndicates.
“Some cycle, while some are sent to restaurants here by adults. I know some of these children come from poor families, but I believe no syndicates are involved. I have spoken to some of these children and they really come from poor backgrounds. Sometimes we give them food if they have had a bad day,” he said.
However, another patron said that while the children appear to be in dire straits, at the end of the day, the money goes to their parents and may not be used for their education.
“They come here every night and we always ask about their parents. They refuse to say who their parents are.
“I know some who are really poor, but some parents take advantage of their children knowing that people will feel pity for youngsters,” the patron said.
Banker N. Karthik Raja, 27, who frequents the restaurants in Ipoh Garden often, said whenever he has the chance, he talks to the young peddlers because he feels bad about what they have to do.
“Once, after buying nuts and tapioca chips from them, I told them that I would help them out if they promised not to come out at night and stayed home to study instead. They didn’t want to tell me where they were from and what school they attended. They are very secretive. My friend and I planned to visit their home and see what could be done to help them.
“But these children refused our offer and just wanted us to buy their peanuts. I want to help them but they are not helping themselves either,” said Karthik.
Perak Social Welfare Department (JKM) Community and Children’s Division Chief Deputy Director Shamsudin Osman said he is aware of such cases but advises people to exercise caution when approaching such children.
Last year, the department launched a campaign called “Bijak Membantu, Elak Tertipu” (Help effectively, avoid being cheated) to educate the public about what they can do to help the poor.
“People must see who they are helping. We are not telling people to refrain from helping, but you must actually check whether they are really poor or not. Ramadan is here and we are going around promoting this campaign,” said Shamsudin.
He added that people should be cautious when they see children who are begging or selling things and if they feel something is not right, they can always call the department.
“We have a hotline called Talian Kasih and the public can just dial 15999 to provide a report. We will take immediate action,” he said.