The Opportunistic Begging Phenomena
28 February 2013
Begging is a sad but true part of travelling in any developing or third world country. It is commonplace in many areas and for a vast amount is a part of daily life to support themselves, others and their very own livelihoods, whatever that may be. Throughout the past 5 years I’ve seen my fair share of poverty and I’d be lying if I told you that I don’t get “beggar fatigue” at some points. This is just a fancy way of saying that you get sick of being hassled for money.
However, in many cultures it is against the cultural and social norm to beg in general. There are religious reasons as to why people beg for money or food and this is because they take a vow of poverty. This has been so for millennia throughout many religions including, but not limited to Christianity and Buddhism. In many countries you will be accustomed to seeing a monk or religious men and woman doing the rounds on the streets for food or money, everyday. There are a couple of more types of begging in which I am going to refer to in this post.
Begging out of necessity. This doesn’t seriously happen as often as you may think. Cultural and societal norms will largely prevent this from happening and you hardly come across much of what you’d call “essential” begging. This is not saying that it does not happen, it does and in ever increasing amounts. What I would define as essential begging is a person that has lost all their ability to work or find work; for example a limbless child who was victim to a landmine from a war that was waged decades ago or a man who has lost both his eyes from a disease or virus. There is the flipside to this scenario though. Employment is becoming scarcer and scarcer and developing and third world countries are falling behind as the income gaps increase every passing day. So many people are driven off their farmland (agriculture being the largest employer in the world) and in search of work within cities where there is none. This has led to unimaginable amounts of urban poverty, where in many cases people are forced to beg.
There is another type of begging that I like to dub “opportunistic begging” or “tourist begging”. What I mean by this is that there is an ever-growing issue amongst populations that are frequented by the tourism industry and more importantly – uneducated foreigners or package tourists. I’ve always liked to think about the personal experiences I’ve had visiting some of the more under privileged parts of society and believe me I have seen some very sad sights. However, there is a trend that develops out of these areas, which is the opposite of what many would first think. No begging occurs because they do not always see foreigners and many of these parts include areas that aren’t popular so to speak. Rather it is the complete opposite is most situations – the people are giving rather than taking and you feel eternally grateful.
So why is it a phenomenon only in touristic areas? Well as it was stated before, simply because it is easy. It is creating a whole sub-culture of begging, which is simply detrimental to a local population and doesn’t do it any good. You’ve probably all seen the movie “Slumdog Millionaire” and looked at all the things that happen to the children in that movie and thought “oh that is horrible”. Well it isn’t that far from the truth. For instance you will see women who sell their babies to local “mafia” types and then the babies are handed off to a woman that walks around all day to beg. The worst part about this scenario is that the babies are normally drugged so they are literally limp – no crying, no feeding, no nothing. Another issue can be associated with younger children. You can criticise the Asian schooling systems pretty hard, but it is still there to educate, no matter how bad. Many children in many areas are simply no going (not that it is enforced anyway) but they are simply begging for money off tourists. These are a small group of examples out of a bag full of hundreds.
The issues stated above are all exacerbated by an uneducated foreign population within a tourist industry that is aimed at dumbing down the visitor who in turn treat their destinations with apathy and simply view the country as a place, rather than a place where both people and nature live. In comparison to the foreigners that are educated on important matters such as this who not only enjoy, but respect and support sensible and responsible tourism.
Opportunistic begging is an issue that is ongoing and introduces more backwards steps to an already problematic area, poverty. So next time do your part to be educated on the matter; don’t simply hand out money or candy to droves of children or random men and women on the street. Use your sensibility and gut instincts to judge and remember, generally speaking, not giving anything away is doing more good than harm.