Begging: To Give or Not to Give?

Posted on October 12, 2011

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Is there really anything wrong with giving to street beggars? Is it all just one big scam? How do you just say no?

Street beggars pose an interesting question - do we give, or not?

Street beggers are a common sight when traveling through any country abroad. Many travelers wonder whether or not they cause more harm tossing someone change as opposed to not giving at all. Although giving is a personal choice, there are a few reasons why it may not be the wisest decision. This article will explain why, and weigh whether beggars are just another scam. Finally, it will introduce how to say “no” and mean it.
By Kelly Bisbee
Unfortunately, the sad truth about street beggars in Europe is that most of them are looking for a tourist to take advantage of. While there can be no definitive way to tell whether a someone is begging out of desperation and or has made it their profession, it is important to look at some reasons why giving to people who beg should be avoided.
  • Professional Thievery: The unfortunate truth is that many thieves disguise their profession under the rags of a street beggar. Assuming that Americans are naïve and carry valuables, beggars will spot you in a crowd and harass you for money, often while their hands swiftly clean out your pockets.
  • A Little is Never Enough: If you do decide to spare a few coins to a beggar, be warned that once you give a little, there is a good chance you won’t be left alone until you give much more. Opening your wallet, allowing a beggar to catch a glimpse of the money inside, opens the door to more aggressive begging and often harassment.
  • Endless Cycle: Sometimes, groups of little children will beg for money. While they can be a miserable site, giving only encourages children to keep begging instead of going to school. Kids idolize wealth and target tourists, knowing how difficult it is for them to say no to a derelict child. Begging children are usually be exploited by the their parents or a community that takes advantage of human sympathy. As hard as it may be to say no, giving to kids could cause the cycle of exploitation to continue.

Saying “No”

If you decide to say no to a beggar, it needs to be effective. With a clear, firm voice say, “No.” There is no need to be rude or angry. A small gesture of dismissal – never a blatantly insulting one – can accentuate this message. Put your hand up as a barrier or wave the beggar away. Do not apologize or try to sound like you would like to say yes but should not. Doubt invites the beggar to beg more aggressively. Ignoring the beggar and walking away will just encourage him or her to keep following you.
Giving is a personal and often sensitive topic, and whether you give or not is your choice. It is hard to say no to a child, someone disabled, or someone who looks needy, but in reality these people are typically being exploited and in turn exploiting others. Giving to them supports this cycle and can be a risk to you and your possessions. If you would like to help those that are begging in the street, save them money you were going to hand out, and donate it to a charity that is working towards truly helping the problem. It’s a much better use of your money.

More Resources

  • How to identify beggars as thieves and what to do if you are targeted: Check it out
  • A website that lists out the charities in Europe where you could donate your money: Check it out
  • One blogger’s experience with beggars and his attitude towards the situation: Check it out
  • A blog about how giving, especially to children, can cause more harm than good: Check it out

Do you give to people on the street? What are your thoughts on the situation? Weigh in with the comments section below.

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Posted in: LIFE ABROAD