Words: Hala Al-Hashlamoun and Omar Jubran
Feature Image taken from www.jordantimes.com
If you live in Amman you must have been at least in one situation where a beggar has asked you for money. This social dilemma has been part of our lives for so long, characterized by individuals reaching out to our humane side, living off the expense of other people, that it almost became something we accept.
“The occupation of begging”; this is how officials in the Ministry of Social Development prefer to term the act of begging while explaining to us how it has turned into a career instead of being “merely a way to get by”, as they told HCW contributor, Omar Jubran.
The Ministry supports these statements with facts and figures that they were very willing to share with us, coupled with an objective telling of their own encounters with beggars.
Stories are told of beggars on wheelchairs that stood up running as soon as they saw the patrols of the ministry and others who faked injuries to gain people’s sympathy. Some wealthy beggars were caught more than once by the ministry, owning fancy cars and well equipped homes. To our surprise, these are not fantastic tales you hear while gossiping with your neighbors, these are official stories told by government officials.
“The ministry does its best to help those people”, said one official. “Adults are offered decent jobs and financial aid from several fund programs, in addition to a special fund program for patients who cannot afford treatment at hospitals; however, many still refuse these opportunities, because to them begging is more profitable.”
“Addiction” was the word used by the officials during our interview.
“The laws are not strict enough” stressed another official. Adults who get caught are sent to court where punishment consists mostly of paying a fine. These people usually end up on the streets on the same day as time is money and there is no point wasting it. In the year 2013, 2840 people were caught in the act of begging, amongst whom were 400 children under the age of 18. Sadly, many of those children have been repeatedly caught throughout the past years.
Child beggars are the ones who suffer most, born into families who look upon them as “Geese who lay golden eggs”; denied proper education and an innocent childhood, they have it worst. The ministry reaches out repeatedly to their parents, urging them to provide their children with better care. However, parents respond by removing their children from rehabilitation centers and sending them back on the streets.
In the Ministry’s opinion, everybody is part of the problem, and thus, part of the solution; those beggars won’t be sending their children to the streets if it were not paying off. “We are too sympathetic as a people” says the Ministry; people are willing to give those beggars on the streets, not realizing they are encouraging them to stay on the streets.
Delving deeper into this phenomenon, HCW contributor Hala Al-Hashlamoun sought a child beggar to gain more insight into what life must be for a child, forced into adulthood, not a straight one at that, at such a young age. This is what they both had to say:
Hasan, a 9-year-old beggar, talked to me over dinner about his begging experience that he has been doing for the past 4 years in different areas of Amman. He lives with his mother, who is also a beggar, albeit on a wheel chair.
Hasan’s presence at the traffic lights depends on which day it is. When accompanied by his mother, it usually is the morning hours, but on the “evening shift” which starts at 5 pm and lasts till 1 am, he goes on his own. In his words he described his daily scenario; “I take a taxi from home to here every day, it costs me 5 JD. I stop the taxi next to the traffic lights, give him 5 JD, start begging until I get around 30 to 40 dinars to give to my mom. Then I beg for more 5 JD to pay the taxi to get back home.”
Seasoned beggars can make much more money than that, reaching into the 2,000 JD salary bracket and beyond in a month. A household of four could be bringing in a minimum of 7,000 JD a month, so why replace that with minimum wage, taxation and an education?
When asked about his experience with the authorities, Hasan asserted having been arrested many times and described different ways the authorities use to arrest beggars, including arrival in disguises so their identity is not given away and beggars can run when they spot them.
When asked about school he said: “I wanted to go to school but there are papers that I need to get that are a bit costly and we can’t afford.”
Later on he continued, “I have a plan. After two years I will start working in fixing cars at a place in my neighborhood. A Job is way better than begging. Especially now that the begging market is deteriorating and the number of beggars has increased, and now they are from so many different nationalities.”
Jordan is not the first country to be struck by the crash in the beggar’s market, though. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Tyler Cowan, a celebrated economics blogger, asks whether begging might be an “overcrowded occupation subject to congestion.” In layman’s terms, this means that there are already too many beggars on the streets, and giving off any more money would attract more beggars into a pool of ‘work’ that is already saturated.
At the moment, there is no denying that there are more and more beggars in Jordan. Whether or not the “market” has deteriorated or not is yet to be seen, but with households full of beggars bringing in copious amounts of income, it is very questionable whether they have the incentive at all to stop begging and enter an almost impossible job market.