Whenever I go to the Marriott hotel I walk past a woman sitting on the street, clutching a child and making a gesture for food by bunching her fingers together and putting them to her mouth, out of which flows a torrent of words outlining her misfortune and destitution. I don’t understand all of what she says but I do understand her following cries of “Madama! Madama!!” every time I walk past her.
Each time, the woman releases the small, filthy child with her to follow me, mewling pathetically like an orphaned kitten. I feel like a wicked, sinful, callous person each time I pass this woman-and-child team, because I never give her money.
But mostly I feel angry. Because each time I pass the woman has a different child or children with her. None of these can be above six years old. They are all filthy and dressed in rags. I’m not sure if any of them are her children or if all of them are. What I am sure of is that the woman is using these children to provide her livelihood. She is using their dirt and raggideness, their very penury and privation, to provide for herself. She employs them to make income for her, when it should be the other way around.
I don’t know what to do about the beggar children in Cairo. I know many of them are in this kind of situation, forced to provide money in a collective organized by an adult, despite the fact that they are so very very young. I’ve certainly not seen more adult beggars here than I have in any place in America or Europe, but the amount of dusty, sad-eyed children seeking a handout is staggering.
I’ve no desire to provide income for the adults who think nothing of making these tiny kids work. On the other hand, I suspect many of the children are required to meet a quota for the day and I suspect if they fail to do so they won’t eat, or worse. Can I look into the eyes of a hungry child and refuse her food?
I know that the racketeers will just set more children on the street if their existing schemes work. But how do I help these kids?