Beggars in Thailand

Beggars are a difficult situation.

As a backdrop, it needs to be pointed out that Thailand"s climate is accommodating. No one freezes to death here. While Thailand is not a socialist utopia, there are mechanisms in place for helping the needy.

Most temples, for example, give food to the poor and the Thai government has some support for the handicapped and orphaned. Finally, most Thais believe that they make merit by helping the poor, so they are relatively generous.

Because of the backdrop noted above, there actually are not that many beggars in Thailand. Many countries have far more. In addition, the beggars that you do find generally don't harass you like they do, for example, in India.

Do some people slip between the cracks? No doubt. Are there people begging who have no choice? Probably - but not many.

Beggars can be divided into the following categories: Children, handicapped people, mothers with babies and illegal aliens. Many people allege that there is a beggars' mafia that controls the beggars, drops them off and picks them up every day, houses them and takes a percentage of what they get. Some also claim that children are trafficked from neighboring countries specifically to beg.

Some people also claim that most of the beggars aren"t poor at all - that they beg about half the year and then return to their homes upcountry.

Whether any of these allegations are true or not is a matter of speculation. The bottom line question is, of course, should you give money to beggars?

Most Thais would say "it's up to you." Yours truly almost never gives to beggars, but a long time expat friend occasionally does. You'll often see Thai people giving small change. Some people suggest giving a bit of food or fruit juice rather than money.

At the end of the day, the Thais are right - you have to decide for yourself.