In most European cities, it is common to find a lone Roma beggar sitting at a corner of a street with a coffee cup in hand. Many of these beggars have moved to west in hopes of earning more money in wealthier countries with less competition. Many people are annoyed of the sight of begging Roma, and the Norwegian government is now discussing a national ban to remove the beggars from the townscape.
The ban would not only make the act of begging illegal but it would also ban the well-meaning Norwegians from giving aid to the beggars, be it monetary or material. Consequently this has left many Europeans baffled and enraged citizens and politicians alike. Some see it as a vicious attack against the poor minority.
Begging has always been a complex issue. The problem is that it may often be organized: the poor people are approached in their home countries with a chance to earn more money abroad in exchange for a massive cut of what they will earn. At times human trafficking is heavily involved with begging business and the handicapped, watery-eyed children are the golden geese.
Although the situation in Norway is unlikely to be that severe, running an organized begging business is hardly ethical. The beggars are often indebted to their boss and are thus compelled to continue begging for the lack of other sources of income.
It is for these reasons Norway wishes to ban begging: not to punish the beggars themselves but the people ruthlessly exploiting them. However, the ban would also forbid Norwegians from offering food or shelter, which is the reason for the law’s controversy. The people in charge of the begging business are unlikely to benefit from such generosity and the help goes where it is most likely needed. The creators of the bill may have thought this would simplify things for the enforcers of the law but the result is what the Norwegian socialist politician Karin Anderson calls “criminalization of Europe’s poorest people”.
But what if the law will be passed? There are many beggars who would be unable to find other employment due to lack of education and illiteracy. It is possible that they might choose to pursue a career in crime, which would create problems of another degree of magnitude.
With all things considered, begging ought not to be banned. Doing so would be turning a shoulder on the fact that there are people who need help and denying them their right to ask for help would be morally reprehensible. But should one give money to beggars? If one can live with the ethics of H&M and other retail-clothing companies that barely pay for their factory workers, organized begging may not be as iniquitous as it appears. After all, it is better to be underpaid than to not be paid at all.