Begging Helps the Locals
When travelling in third world countries, the swarm of beggars on the streets with cupped hands outstretched, children pulling at your clothes, mothers crying whilst sickly babies barely stay upright on their shoulders and old men and women diseased and doubled over, is a common sight. How could anyone shun these people?
Guilt is a major reason why tourists from around the world give money to beggars on the streets. It may be a selfish motive but sparing a few pennies for people, who have nothing, when travellers often have everything they could ever need, seems like a very small donation. When in India this summer, I paid for a meal in a restaurant, but after seeing a mother with two children begging outside the window I immediately asked for the food to be wrapped up and given to them. Money is clearly not the only solution.
I do not wish to support the ‘begging mafia’ but sometimes donations are needed. Senegal is a country in western Africa that is not the typical tourist destination. Those that do travel here witness the 100,000 child beggars, most of whom are in the capital, Dakar. Some of these children are forced to beg by their teachers and can be beaten if they do not bring enough money back to their school. This is what is meant by ‘begging mafia’. But if a few of our pennies can stop children being abused in such a horrific way, then it is definitely a worthy cause.
Often people have no choice but to beg. In Cambodia there are thousands of blind, disabled and terribly disfigured people, young and old, who have no means of earning money. Blind parents are led around hand-in-hand by their children and their disfigured faces will stay with you for life. Countries like this do not have a good welfare system for people in this situation – begging is the only answer. If we do not give them money, then who will?
Begging Hinders the Locals
As a tourist in South East Asia, it is inevitable that one will be consistently bombarded with pleas for money. This is due in part to the wealth inequalities that exist in this region, but also in my opinion, that in many cases people choose to beg tourists for money instead of bettering themselves with education and jobs. On the principle of trying to discourage them from begging, my friends and I therefore decided not to give money to each and every beggar that we saw.
In Vietnam, we encountered a teenage boy trying to guilt-trip us into giving him money in order for him to go to school the next day. But it occurred to us: why, in a country where education is free, wasn’t he there already? We decided that the best thing to do was not to be taken in by him, as by giving him money we might actually be encouraging him to beg more and thus he would continue. If we didn’t, then there might be no other alternative for him than to go to school, apart from perhaps getting a ‘proper’ job instead.
In Cambodia, many of us found it particularly difficult to refrain from giving money when confronted with very young children beggars, some of which didn’t even have mothers with them and were simply wandering the streets on their own asking for money. The main thing that prevented us from succumbing to our guilt was the fact that having travelled around SE Asia for several months, we had been confronted by hundreds of beggars, and it is simply impossible to decide who is worthier of your money. We found this hard, especially in Cambodia when you can see several beggars on one street; you simply couldn’t give to one and then ignore the others.
It was for these reasons that we decided instead to give money to those who were attempting to better themselves in life, even by doing the simplest things such as tours and selling tea or souvenirs. We decided that those who were trying were more deserving of our money and that perhaps that would help to encourage others to follow their lead.