A young boy with a noticeable skin condition sells boxes of tissues to drivers as they pull up at the traffic lights. He wears a large cap with the peak pulled tightly down, and the way in which he holds his head and lowers his eyes suggests that he is in some way ashamed of his features. Just like so many other young boys on the outskirts of Morocco’s cities, he stands there for hours, often with little or no shade from the penetrating African sun.
An elderly man is being slowly pushed in a rickety wheelchair, up and down the verge of a busy main road, one thin arm raised to shield his eyes from the sun, while the other clutches at the armrest, as the bumpy road jerks his frail body around. The man pushing him is dressed in dirty, ill-fitting clothes, and they stop at the window of each stationary vehicle with outstretched hands and imploring eyes.
Begging is prolific in Morocco, with many blaming it on urbanisation and the unemployment that inevitably results from this, with others arguing that the charitable mentality of most Moroccans has led to many choosing to make a living from begging. Children, the elderly and the handicapped are the main victims of this form of trade, with many being forced to spend long hours begging, sometimes by relatives or by others who hire them.
Moroccan law states that sentences of between two and six months can be given to beggars over the age of 18, but most Moroccans will tell you that this law is rarely enforced, and the begging community are increasingly being left to their own devices. With claims that up to 500,000 people are living as professional beggars in this country, it clearly isn’t just a problem among those poorest members of society.
Then there were the beggars of Bangkok, many of whom would unconvincingly pretend to have limbs missing in order to prick at the consciences of the passers by, some crouching awkwardly on one leg with the other tucked clumsily up behind them, voluminous shirts intended to cover the blatant deception.
For someone like me, and doubtless many of you, who try to see the good in others and don’t like to think of anybody else suffering unnecessarily, it is precisely this type of beggar that will upset us the most. The type who ‘hire’ handicapped people or small children in order to make money for themselves; professional beggars who are employed by legitimate means yet choose to beg to supplement their income; the smartly dressed men who watch their offspring from a distance as they sell plastic wrapped roses to the tourists and the mothers who teach their children to rob from unsuspecting holiday makers or who are given babies with which to sit on the streets and beg with.
There are many people in this world living below the poverty line, some of whom exist within the very community in which I live, but when I see somebody who is appealing upon the charity and goodwill of others by attempting to deceive them, it still angers me greatly, but I have found it within myself to try and see the argument from all angles.
Having never been homeless myself or lived below the poverty line, I can’t pretend to know what it must be like, and I certainly can’t pretend to know each and every reason behind a beggar’s circumstances. I’ve never thought about what it might be like to be so desperate for food or water that I have no choice but to resort to deception, and although part of me wants to remain cynical and refuse to believe that anybody could be that desperate, of course it would be naive of me to think so. There is plenty of evidence that professional beggars exist in Morocco, and there is ample proof that some Moroccans are too poor to feed and clothe themselves, so we, as caring and compassionate individuals wanting to reach out to those people, will more than likely never be able to discern the truth and judge who deserves our help and who doesn’t. The solution would, of course, be to stop people from needing or wanting to beg in the first place, but until then, I guess I’ll just keep giving what I can, and be safe in the knowledge that at least I care, even if my money does go to somebody who might not wholly deserve it.