Children deprived of their unworried childhood, growing in an insecure environment without the support of a caring family. Little Moroccans did not choose the life on the street for fun; they are there to bring money home, or even worse, because they have nowhere else to go.
While I was in Marrakesh I spent most of the time documenting the life of children working at Jamaa el Fna (translated as “Assembly of the Dead”), the main square and marketplace in La Medina, Marrakesh’s historic centre. It is there where locals and tourists encounter. The place is famous for its snake charmers, henna tattooists and storytellers, and you can find here all kinds of performances, art, food and entertainment. And you can find plenty of children walking the street with one major goal: to capture tourists’ attention and ask for their financial collaboration.
Working children easily disappear in the crowd, becoming one more piece in the human landscape at Jamaa el Fna. Their work is not based on sex discrimination. Children start working at the age of 4 or 5, performing various activities from selling food and tissues to dancing or simply hanging about in the streets and looking for a generous passer-by. In fact, there are even younger ones accompanying their mothers who try to find their own way to raise little money (only rarely you can see children with fathers). For the purpose of begging it is much more profitable if a woman has a small child on her lap, if they are poorly dressed and even dirty. All this bestows an ill-fated aura on them which reveals their misery.
These children are not easy to be photographed. Why? That is not hard to tell: nobody likes to openly admit their pitiful state; frustration makes people enraged. In order to take the photographs I wanted I had to do it before they realized my intention. Asking the children for permission is not possible as they would not agree, and even if they had, they would not behave spontaneously and a pose never speaks truth.
Taking into account the young age of the children, I assume they cannot consciously reflect on their lives. Have they ever realized that they might and should be living another reality? The more so it is hard to understand that tourists witness this harsh reality and accept it as something normal or natural. It might be questionable whether to help them financially or not because the more profitable they become, the more likely they will remain on the street.
After a few days in Marrakesh I moved to a small village in the Atlas Mountains, the mountain range that stretches across northwestern Africa through Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. The local population consisted mainly of Berbers. Here the child labour is of a different character. Children do not beg for money in the streets but they take part alongside their families in rural activities (such as planting and harvesting fruit and vegetables, taking care of cattle), at the risk of not attending school.
According to Human Rights Watch, rural families are often unaware that all the children under the age of 15 have to attend school. This legal requirement, introduced in 2000, has not been strictly enforced. The school dropout rate rises steadily between the ages of 11 to 141.
But then again, the High Commission of Planning (HCP) claims that important progress has been made. A recent study shows that since 1990 the number of children between the age of 7 and 15 who are employed both in rural and urban areas of Morocco dropped from 517,000 to 86,000. There should be 76,000 working children in rural areas, compared to 10,000 in urban areas. The study also reveals that 57 % of working children are male. The decrease in child employment is also reflected in schooling. In 2014, 88 % of the children successfully finished primary school while in 1999 it was only 62 %. Rural children have benefited in particular. Due to better transport and boarding facilities they can now reach their schools more easily.2
In spite of the progressive statistics the day-to-day situation in the streets of Marrakesh and in other parts of Morocco remains bleak. Those thousands of children without identity who beg in the streets and fight for survival remain as a warning sign in any study of this kind.