Beggars around the world

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Beggars are an unfortunate reality of many third world countries, and some first-world countries too. They can be discreet, demanding, precise or persistent, depending on where in the world you are. There are those with disabilities, often purposely inflicted for the very purpose of begging, (cunning) little children with puppy dog eyes (and wily ways), and those that try to use humour to make people give them money. Ever seen a sign that said “Need money. Want to go partying”, the one about “6 wives and 20 kids to look after” or the one about “Criminology is not my major”. Also there are the sneering ones who look down on what you give them and demand more.  Or follow you…and harass you until they get what they want.

There was once a beggar who came to my house every day. He would ring the doorbell persistently until he was attended to. He knew exactly what he wanted –one day, he would ask for chicken livers, the next day, a present for his daughter on her birthday and the third day, transport money to travel from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth (a city in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province). If you didn’t have what he wanted or told him to come back later, he would walk off cursing you. To be fair, he was mentally unwell.

My husband is a soft target for beggars. He can’t say no to them. This drives me crazy because giving one some money – in many countries –  attracts droves more. In a matter of seconds, you could be surrounded by a crowd and unable to move. This is a genuine fear I have since it has already happened to me.  He was once encountered by two female beggars in Jordan that assured him that they didn’t want money, just some food that he should buy for them from the nearby grocery store. They proceeded to buy luxury items like olives and olive oil. (They were middle-Eastern, after all). Another two women in Mumbai accosted him with the same story and proceeded to buy a whole month’s worth of groceries.  In Morocco, he was jumped upon by two little girls who dumped a flower in my hands then proceeded to harass him for money. He gave them some but they continued to follow him to our hotel until I reprimanded them. In Saudi Arabia, we heard umpteen tales from people who claimed to have lost all their money there and just needed some to get back home to the South-Asian subcontinent.

Beggars - An old woman begging in Venice

A little boy looks at an old woman begging in Venice

However, nowhere in the world that I’ve been to are the beggars more persistent than in India. Having spent some time there in my formative years, I had witnessed how aggressive they can get.

We were once accosted by a beggar in New Delhi –a dirty little boy who must have been around 10 years old. As we alighted from our taxi, we gave him some money then entered the monument we had come to see. On leaving the monument, he accosted us again. We told him that we had already given him money and entered our taxi. Refusing to accept this, he began following our taxi, which couldn’t move fast anyway because of the choking traffic there. As the taxi picked up speed, he jumped on the trunk and started banging our back windscreen. Every time the taxi stopped at a traffic light, he would alight and start banging our side window more vigorously. When the car started moving again, he would jump on the trunk again. Eventually we managed to shake him off. On another occasion in New Delhi, my husband gave a beggar money and before we knew it, our car was surrounded by at least 10 others and we couldn’t move – for a while.

I heard about a beggar in India, an elderly man, who would hang around religious institutions and ask for money. He was a well-known face in his parts and had a trademark sack slung over his shoulder. One day, it was discovered that his sack was full of money as well as a bank savings booklet that proved that he was actually quite rich. When asked why he was begging when he was so rich, he replied that he had been driven out of his home many villages away, by his abusive wife and children and he much preferred this way of life.

Of course, I feel sad when I see little kids begging with their parents, getting accustomed to that way of life. And when I see hunched old ladies begging in crouched positions in Venice and even London. And I do give charity when I feel that the need is genuine. But the truth is that there are many beggars who just spin whatever tales they need to, to tug on tender heartstrings. There was a time when begging was a last resort for the unfortunate. Now, sadly, it is a first resort for many trying to make a quick buck. Often, beggars use the money given to them to buy drugs and alcohol. I’ve heard of those that hire children for the day and those who pretend to be blind – all in a day’s work. In India, I’ve heard of beggars actually breaking the limbs of their babies when they’re born so that people will feel more sympathy for them. Is that not the height of cruelty?

I know people who have provided beggars with goods to sell and tried to set them up in trading businesses – so that they can make an honest living – but that was too much of an effort for them and they were begging again in no time.

It is normal to feel sympathy when seeing beggars. But in my opinion, giving them money perpetuates the culture of begging. It would be better to give your money to a charitable organisation that educates them and helps them to empower themselves.

Have you ever had any bad experiences with beggars? Tell me about it below.

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11 comments
Famidha

Ah! a very sensitive topic! I totally agree with the state of begging in India. We had similar issue Agra and Delhi and not only beggars, even the side walk vendors follow us upto the car and force us to buy. When we refused, he just went on cursing… Our personal driver had actually warned us not to entertain or stop at any sidewalk shops and not to give money to the beggars. I think it is more prevalent in historical areas, trains, and bus stands etc where there is a continuous traffic of new people in the city whom they can exploit. Now for Saudi, I have only seen women begging at the traffic signals and what I am told is begging is banned in Saudi. I personally stopped giving money to beggars as I cannot trust if they are genuinely helpless or like you said made to beg. If there are no food stalls near by, I just walk off.

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Razena | Tantalisemytastebuds.com

It tugs at the heartstrings and one feels obliged to relieve their suffering especially if they are old or tag kids along behind them.

However, my experience in Istanbul last year while on a food walk completely freaked me out. Some Arabic speaking guy literally accosted me on the street demanding money and waving his Syrian travel document in my face, because I was the only one in the group wearing hijab.

The fact that it was a busy street and we were literally on the sidewalk with people milling past did not inspire confidence. The rest of the group practically had to surround me as a means of protection against his continued harassment.

The one that literally brought tears to my eyes was a young woman in a subway station in Paris a few years ago. She was kneeling with her eyes fixed to the ground and her hands raised as if in supplication. She looked both beautiful and extremely tragic and my heart bled that she had to beg for money to probably put food on the table for her family.

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    Sara

    Shew the guy in Istanbul sounds hectic, Razena. Did he really think that that was the best way for him to get money. Some of them cannot take no for an answer and that really irks me. Re the woman in Paris, that’s sad. She must have been desperate. In Europe, I saw mostly old people begging. They looked so sad and sat in corners – so unlike the beggars in India – who were aggressive and demanding and in your face.

    Reply
RunawayBrit

This is such a tricky issue that even after two years of living in India I am still not sure how to deal with it. There are many beggars in my area, but there are definitely patterns amongst them. There is an elderly lady, who gratefully takes any coin that she is offered. There is an elderly man who eagerly eats the food handed to him. Then there are the young women clutching babes-in-arms who sneer at the offered coins and ask for 100 rupee notes instead, or the children who keep their hands outstretched and shout ‘more’, ‘more’.

Of course, I battle with the idea that perhaps giving money to street children prevents them from going to school, or handing out notes might stop street people from working, but the reality of India is that it is not the foreigners’ dollars keeping people on the streets – it is their own people, culture and, of course, caste beliefs. So, if I can ease the burden of somebody’s day by giving them a 10 rupee note, then I do.

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    Sara

    I guess it’s best to deal with each case individually – there’s no blanket rule. I also think that giving food is a great idea as it can’t be abused like money.

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Karen at MomAfain@40

I am always the sucker and always give if I have!
I don’t give much, but if it can help in a small way, then it is enough!
We are just a paycheck away from the pavement…
I can imagine that beggars can become quite aggressive in some places, and I would try to avoid them!

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    Sara

    Hey Karen, you are like my husband. Your intentions are good 🙂

    Reply
Leslie

“It is normal to feel sympathy when seeing beggars. But in my opinion, giving them money perpetuates the culture of begging. It would be better to give your money to a charitable organisation that educates them and helps them to empower themselves.”

I agree with this 100%. The situation in Uganda is different than India. The beggars are not organized by an adult/crime syndicate, but rather are individual women who work together, even lending out their babies to increase the donations coming in. (And routinely arrested for doing so!) By giving to them, and especially their kids, Everyone stays on the street. They know they can make a living. However, donating to local organizations, may increase their reach and help to stop this. More kids could perhaps even go to school, rather than walk the streets. Looking for money.

When travelling and looking for reputable orgs that work with street kids/beggars, search Facebook for “Expats in ________” and name your city. You’ll find all kinds of groups full of people with great recommendations.

Thanks for writing this!

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    Sara

    Thanks for the comment Leslie. I think that we have these women syndicates in South Africa too. Many of them come to our houses at least once a week. Even on the streets, I’ve been noticing alot more female beggars. And thanks for the tip on finding reputable organisations.

    Reply
Clair Kelly

This is always a hard one. I worked for an NGO in Rwanda almost 12 years ago and as employees we were absolutely not allowed to give money to beggars because the organisation would become associated with giving money and it would cause trouble for other staff. Recently I was in India and found the begging in Delhi was quite aggressive with children trying to open the door of your taxi when in traffic etc. But in rural India there was practically no begging because the children had not been exposed to tourists and therefore didn’t expect to receive anything from foreigners. So we have to ask what our role is in it I guess. T he worst begging I experienced was in Marrakech. A young man overheard my friend and I talking about a restaurant and pointed the way. We thanked him but he followed ua all the way on his bike. When we arrived at the restaurant, he started demanding money and when my friend gab him some money (about €1) he started screaming saying it wasn’t enough. We entered the restaurant and he stood outside for an hour waiting for us to come out but was thankfully asked to move by the restaurant staff before we left!

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    Sara

    Thanks for the comment Clair. I think that it adds a valuable perspective to the topic. And I also found that there was hardly any begging in the rural areas of India as compared to the cities and the tourists are partly to blame for this.

    Reply
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