Featured on LBC International: The streets – Backstage

LBC International featured my article on 19 January 2012.

People from all walks of life meet on the street. More often than not we see kids, old people and mothers holding babies under the blazing sun or in the icy winter’s cold in dirty and torn clothes asking for money or trying to sell gum, flowers and other items…

Some have worn out shoes, others walk barefoot. Some of them are handicapped and have serious medical conditions. Most of these people are illiterate and have never been to school. When they see a camera they run away, especially those who come from nearby countries; they are afraid of being recognized and deported. They have no papers and often sleep wherever they can… in abandoned buildings, under a bridge etc.

This is the situation that we see, but what’s really going on backstage?

You will find kids that were given up for sale by families who can’t afford feeding them; you will find kids that were kidnapped from families while they were out for a walk. You will find raped women with a kid and nowhere to go; you will find lonely sick people who cannot afford medication. You will find people who traffic humans for a living, exploiting their misery, forcing them into begging and prostitution.

While other kids are tucked in a warm bed having happy dreams and going to school, the unfortunate ones are on the street at 3 a.m., fighting sleep, running after a car or walking behind people asking for money. The thing is that their “keeper” imposed a certain amount to be brought back. The consequences of not doing so are heavy. The fear is obvious. They get beaten, denied food, raped, humiliated and the list goes on. And because of this, some spit on the windshield to scare people or become aggressive when they are told to move away.

Years go by and the same people remain in the same spots. Many more are pouring in. This phenomenon is blowing out of proportion in Lebanon… I once heard two of them screaming at each other: “Go beg elsewhere! This is my area! Leave!” which startled me: That’s how the same people are on the same spots… It’s organized! I also saw a pick-up truck to which the kids ran and climbed into: There was a man yelling and pulling them up…

In a country that doesn’t have clear laws against abuse, where an abused migrant worker that runs away from the home she is employed is imprisoned and later deported; human traders run free and go about their business under the nose of traffic police. Orphanages are overloaded; taking in kids is a long time responsibility; until they can get an education, a job and become financially independent where could they go to? Who would take of them? What about the elderly who have worked all their lives to find themselves at an age where no one would employ them, with no family and nothing left; not even their dignity? What about the handicapped whose chance to find work is nonexistent because not only the streets are not wheelchair friendly but also the companies?

In 2011, Lebanon decided to do something about the street beggars: a joint security, judicial and social approach is expected to be implemented in 15 days. I hope it’s going to be something more than just banning their presence on the highway; most of these people need a chance in life.

Rita Kamel is a blogger and contributor at LBCblogs. You can find her on Twitter here or check out her blog.

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