Bringing you the issues since 1986

View Online Print Edition


A Moroccan Odyssey Part II: The children of Morroco

October, 2009

click here to view a slideshow of images from A Moroccan Odyssey

The children of Morocco are endearing, enchanting, sad, and in many cases very poor. A number of young children work alongside their parents in shops and restaurants. Countless others are sent out to the streets to hawk small packages of tissues, flags, and snacks. Then there are the beggars – some quite professional.

According to Human Rights Watch (2005), Morocco has one of the highest child labor rates in the Middle East and North Africa. Government stats suggest that 600,000 children ages 7 to 14 are engaged in some kind of economic activity. Of those, 372,000 are under age 12. The numbers of children engaged in rural work is higher, but we noticed a fair number of children in every city, with the exception of Chefchaouen, where children are forced to beg or sell tissues.

These photos are not of child beggars. I didn’t want the children to think I was taking pictures of them in that situation. These photos reflect children of all ages and levels of income and at all levels of happiness.

The three boys posing for us in Chefchaouen reflect the large number of teens who seem to have absolutely nothing to do but sit around and watch people go by. Occasionally they will ask to be your guide for a few dirham and will lead you to shops and restaurants who will give them a small commission for taking you there.

The photo of the young girl and her grandfather in the “cave shop” is indicative of the close relationship between grandparents and grand- children we noticed. The boy in the photo with me at his father’s jewellery shop in Essaouira knows how to create the jewellery as well and will likely take over his father’s shop. So will the boy in the tiny textile shop in the souk in Rabat. These children don’t look unhappy. It was May when these pictures were taken and these children were not in school.

In Tangiers we ate quite a few meals outside overlooking the port at family style restaurants where a chicken or fish dinner can be had for $3 or $4. Two sisters, about 7 and 10 wearing hijabs patrolled the area selling tissues. I invited them to eat with us, telling the waiter to bring them each a chicken dinner with fries and a coke. They sat down beside us without a word. The waiter then asked them to skedaddle, and sit at the far end of the restaurant. I protested and insisted they stay with us. They split one of the meals and took the second one home, probably for their parents.

A tourist couple in Casablanca, offered a young mother and grandmother with a toddler their left over food after we offered ours. I would make sandwiches for children on the street from my leftovers or sometimes just offer fries off my plate. The ones who took the bread from the basket — you knew they were hungry. It’s strange to be sitting there eating outside and have them watching you. After all these are not cats waiting for the fishbones, these are children and young adults.

A boy in Chefchaouen was the glad recipient of an ice cream cone. He approached me and just stared at me as I was ordering mine. Another boy wanted a sandwich and got one.

In Casablanca we bought a flag from a boy selling them at our café for 10 dirham ($1). Another man sipping coffee next to us had a similar idea and just gave the kid $1. Whenever we gave, it seemed to encourage others to do so.

Then there are the lucky children, who seem very attached to their parents, walking along happily, or strapped to the backs of their moms, the children helping with the shopping or at the water fountain. Many others walk alone down the narrow streets as if they owned the place, with no adult in sight, some as young as three.

The saddest scenes, and of these scenes I have no pictures, are the children born with deformities or whose parents couldn’t afford simple medical treatment that would have given them a “normal” existence. They sit on the street, often with parents, begging. One girl sat outside her house on the street all day with her hand out. She must have been about 14 or 15. What a sad look she had, with nothing to read, nothing to do all day but beg. I gave her money twice, which she barely acknowledged. In the hour I watched her, no one gave her even 10 cents.

What angers and frustrates me is that this country’s king has palaces in every city. When he is about to arrive, that place is instantly cleaned up and made to look like nobody lives or suffers there. I guess he never sees the deformed children, the street children, and child beggars. But he must know of them. He must know the statistics. The truth is — he just doesn’t care.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment