By Karin Ekblom
Once upon a time there was a girl, born in a village she doesn’t know the name of, because she never had the opportunity to learn it. Her mother is sitting and breastfeeding her on a chair, and outside of their gangly walls the winds cold breath is trying to make its way in through the crevices. The winds are slowly neglecting her, slowly but firm. The winds are building walls around her, in an attempt to forget her existence, because in their eyes she is not worth a single bit.
She lives in extreme poverty, and as a last resort she decides to beg for money in a foreign and cold city, Stockholm in Sweden. A country barely touched by the 21st century’s cold hand, a place where the houses in the south matches autumns changing nuances, a colorful and clean place. But a place where you don’t ask for help.
All around Sweden multiple politicians have put forward propositions to ban begging. Most recently did the right-winged party Moderaterna suggest a national prohibition against begging for money, with a support of 57% of the Swedish population. To criminalise begging would put people that are already in vulnerable positions, for an example Romani people, in an even worse situation. Begging should therefore not be banned in Sweden, or in any other country.
A lot of the people who are begging for money in Sweden are Romani, a very discriminated group where the vast majority is from Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. Romani people don’t have the same opportunities to education, healthcare and are very discriminated on the labor market. A great amount of the Romani people are living in poverty, poverty that forces them into begging. To come to a foreign country, such as Sweden, to beg for money is therefore not chosen, but necessary. To ask for help should not be illegal. It is arguable that it is very unethical to not have the chance to ask for help, people in vulnerable positions are entitled to ask for help and to prohibit begging would take that opportunity away. If people are not allowed to ask for help, how will their situation ever get better? A prohibition would make it more difficult to ask for help as the people who are begging may not know the language of the country which they’re in, their empty cup may be the only thing that can speak for them.
The words ‘No human is illegal’ adorns her surroundings, but doesn’t seem to apply to her. Above her head the insults and social stigmas are dancing waltz in the pace of the winds footsteps, and they never stop to rest – they dance, and dance, and dance. She wants someone to listen to her silence – her incredibly, exploding, loud silence – but no one seems to want to hear, her paper mug echos of emptiness. No one seems willing to help her, and now they wanna forbid her.
Criminalisation of begging indirect says that it is reasonable, or possible, to forbid poverty. The only people who would be punished because of their poverty, would be the people living in poverty. To prohibit begging does not make the problem go away, poverty amongst the people who beg will still exist. It would not make the causes for begging go away, and the change shouldn’t lie in a criminalisation, or prohibition, it should lie in the fundamental problems. The change has to be in the way we see other people, and in this case Romani people. Pressure from the European Union for an example needs to be put on countries that are discriminative towards Romani people. They have not put themselves in that position, their governments have. The people around them have. We have. They shouldn’t be punished just because their assets fit in a paper mug, being poor should not be a crime.
She watches as they seclude themselves in their own worlds, how they build walls of granite around themselves. She watches how they spackle the gaps between the boulders and turn their back on those who with a cup in their hand come with burned down dreams and empty pockets, and knocks on their door.
An often used argument in the debate of forbidding begging is that it is a disgrace to our ‘clean and idyllic societies’, and that it is hard to watch someone in that situation. Carina Wutzler, a Swedish politician who suggested criminalisation of begging in the county Vellinge, stated that it is awful to see beggars, and that she feels obstructed when going into a grocery store when a beggar is sitting outside. It is easy to blame those feelings on some sort of sadness in seeing someone in that vulnerable position, and even if that is the case that empathy should be used to try and help, not to make it more difficult. The people walking past beggars, are not the people who have it worse. To prohibit begging is forgetting our humanity, our empathy – what makes humans humans.
Sweden, a country barely touched by the 21st century’s cold hand, a place where the houses in the south matches autumns changing nuances, a colorful and clean place. A place where one should be allowed to ask for help, a place where being poor shouldn’t be forbidden. A place where our empathy should be as clean as our cities. A place where we should listen to people’s incredibly, exploding and loud silence.
Stockholm, a place barely touched by the twenty first century’s cold hand, a place where the house’s in the south matches autumns changing nuances, a colorful and clean place where you don’t ask for help.