This public policy begs more questions than anything else…especially about our own inconvenient truths…
As summer holidays begin, hundreds of students from impoverished families have flocked to upper-class neighbourhoods of the capital to eke out a living by begging near upscale coffee shops and busy traffic intersections.
Despite scorching summer heat, with temperatures reaching as high as 40Ë?C, boys and girls between the ages of six and 14 roam the streets looking for handouts from passersby.
Many have designated areas where others dare not trespass; some divide up the most lucrative areas â?? usually malls and coffee shops â?? among themselves.
Nine-year-old Hussam is from the poor district of Ras Al Ain, located in the heart of Amman. A bright boy with a promising future, Hussam must sell chewing gum at a nearby bus station during the school year in order to help his widowed mother and three sisters get by. And he can make around JD2 â?? on a good day â?? by selling fruit near a traffic light downtown.
During the summer holidays, however, Hussam works in the up-market Abdoun District, where he begs for money at the windows of the many expensive cars that pass through the area.
â??These people have plenty of money to give away, and I need it,â? said Hussam.
â??Iâ??m not ashamed, because Iâ??m not stealing from anybody,â? he added.
He went on to say that he often earns JD14 a day this way â?? and sometimes double that, if he works from 7:00am to midnight. Hussam can often be found taking naps under a tree or in the shade of an abandoned building.
Cars bearing UAE, Saudi or Kuwaiti licence plates are major attractions for persistent young beggars, who know their target markets well. European tourists, diplomats and young couples, they say, are also not to be left alone.
â??Iâ??ve been doing this for two years and I know who will give and who will not,â? Hussam proudly said.
â??Young couples are guaranteed to give money, because men can never say â??noâ?? if theyâ??re sitting with a girl that they want to impress.â?
Not just boys have a monopoly on the trade. Sajida, in the sixth grade, is from Wadi Abdoun, another of the capitalâ??s low-income areas. Her father died five years ago, her older brother is in prison and the rest of her four young siblings have joined her begging for a living. Sajidaâ??s overriding concern is about boys who occasionally harass her or her sisters.
Despite her harsh circumstances, however, she expresses optimism for the future.
â??Iâ??m not going to do this for the rest of my life,â? Sajida said.
â??When I grow up, Iâ??m going to be a doctor.â?
According to figures from the Ministry of Social Development, some 15 per cent of Jordanians live below the poverty line, meaning that they subsist on the equivalent of $140 a month or less. Government officials, meanwhile, note that the begging phenomenon has increased by 20 per cent in the past month alone, and is expected to double in the next two months.
Social Development Ministry officials say they are looking into ways of tackling the problem, but admit they face an uphill battle.
â??We pick kids up off the streets, but as soon as we release them, they return again,â? said Mohammad Elian, a ministry inspector.
â??We need to raise the awareness of families to the dangers of allowing their children to beg in the streets,â? he added. [Jordan Times]
The government’s public policy consists of “picking kids up off the streets” and at best “raising awareness” about the dangers of begging. A policy that has worked so brilliantly in the past that the number of children begging now has the ability to double in a month and even be classified as a (quite possibly) passing “phenomenon” (as opposed to a reality). It’s really only the summer months we have to worry about; with all those tourists around we have to sweep such inconvenient displays of beggary under the social rug, possibly even close our eyes, click our heels and count to ten.
Here’s an idea…
Find them a viable income. (Now where’s the Nobel for my one point economics plan? You have to admit, it sure beats the status quo)
“What’s coming is even better…believe me. The “Saraya” project, The new “Downtown Amman” project and the “Jordan Gates” project. I mean don’t worry about your futures…there’s a million new places to beg in.”