Although the Municipality of Lima took great efforts to remove beggars from the streets, it's a common thing to see many of them hanging around; especially in the areas where tourist are. For many beggars this is the only way to gain at least some income. If you feel pity for these poor people, feel free to give them a Sol or two. Or if an old grandma wants to sell you some chewing gums or sweets, you can make her very happy by buying some.
But even if it sounds hard-hearted please be aware when giving money to children. These kids are forced by either their parents or by some gangs to beg or sell sweets and candies. They have to ask people for money with some unscrupulous adults waiting around the corner or they are transported to "good" areas and left at street corners to beg and just to be picked up in the evenings.
Friendly, old lady selling sweets at the entrance of a church to earn a few Soles
Even in the high end district of San Isidro you find beggars
Father with his children trying to support his family with begging
A father with his two children making music on Lima's street to earn a few bucks
They won't have anything from the money they get, all of it has to be handed over. This is child abuse that shouldn't be supported. If these "criminals" can't make much money with these poor children, there wouldn't be so many of them out in the streets begging and being taken advantage of.
The Situation today in Lima
Many municipalities within Lima, churches and NGO's are trying hard to stop children begging and getting them off the streets. "Say no to begging" is one campaign which is related to a special social project where the children are provided with a free lunch every day. This might not seem a lot but for the kids and their parents free food is essential. Other projects include help for the families with clothes, food, education, and so on. We would like to advise you better to support these projects than giving money to begging children.
You should also be careful when "mothers" with babies or small children on their arm ask you for some money. Most of these "mothers" aren't the real mum of the baby they have with them. Unbelievable but true they just rented the infant to arouse pity and make money. A few years ago leaving the church in Miraflores with my little daughter, even I was approached by a well-dressed lady who wanted to rent my little girl. She told me if I agree to the deal, we both could make lots of money out of her. I was so shocked that I couldn't even answer and just left holding my daughter tight.
Handicapped man making music on Lima's street hoping to earn a few Soles
Sweet girl selling goodies in Miraflores
The municipality Miraflores launched a program to reduce the numbers of beggars in the district. With huge banners they call our attention that giving child beggars money won't help.
Another quite common way to try and cheat you out of your money is the following: your taxi driver, bus driver, tour guide, a waiter or even a nice young lady from the street is asking you for money because his / her child is in hospital. He / she will tell you a heartbreaking very detailed story like the child is very sick and he / she can't afford the medicine. If the kid doesn't get the special, of course very expensive drug it will die in a few day (and so on...). Coming from a developed country this will really touch you and of course you want to help. But please start thinking before you open your wallet! A lot of these stories are totally fabricated just to arouse your pity and rip you off. Although everything sounds so true and of course sad, don't take the chance and like many before you be fooled out of hundreds of Dollars.
Last but not least, don't feel safe if a "fellow tourist" or foreigner is asking you for money. Unfortunately some have adopted above mentioned dishonest behavior. They might as well tell you a piteous story just to get to your money.
Our Personal Comment
Many of the above points sound shocking. It's really sad that sometimes you can't realize the truth when confronted with well prepared stories. According to official studies around 20% of Lima's population lives in poverty. That are more than 1.6 million people. Looking at the slums surrounding Lima and the thousands of workers earning an average wage of around US$ 200.- to US$ 300.- you soon realize, after 1st world standards there are even more people that need help. But before you waste your money to people trying to rip you off, better use official channels to support local projects.