Child exploitation in Jemaa el Fnaa – Marrakech, Morocco


A recent visit to Jemma el Fnaa, normally one of my favorite sites for a kitschy sensory overload, took an ugly turn.  I normally gravitate towards the story tellers and street performers, though this evening I encountered something new.  A crowd ringed a young boy while a man walked around the circle, his hands full of bills as he challenged men in the crowd to offer their sons up to fight and accepting bets on the outcome.  The boy in the photograph appeared to be there against his will and was ultimately pitted against a much larger and older boy.

Nobody shouted “stop” or expressed how unacceptable the spectacle was.  No police officers intervened.  I didn’t stop it, either.

I was shocked.  I felt horrible and helpless.  Weeks later I still regret not rushing to the nearest police station and summoning an officer.

I made a photograph and quickly lowered the camera as I walked along the edge of the crowd.  I made an additional photograph or two of the “bout” and then one of the “promoter”.  The promoter ran through the crowd and started screaming at me at me to delete the photographs, demanding money and cursing at me in English.  I responded – in Darija – that his requests were “not possible”.  He then swore at me again and ran back through the crowd in order to encourage the boys to keep the match exciting for the spectators.

I realized that I was the only person in the crowd that found this whole thing disgusting and that the audience, now numbering about fifty people, may also have a low opinion of me and my stupid camera. I was totally alone.  Common sense kicked in and I scooted back into the flow of the crowd, disappointed in how stupid I was for putting myself into a potentially dangerous situation and not getting the hell out of there earlier.

I walked by an hour later and saw two young men fighting one another, their well-used boxing gloves occasionally connecting and both nursing bloody noses.  I was relieved that the children were given a break.

I have sat on this image for the past few weeks and have felt reluctant to share it.  I don’t normally make this sort of work.  I don’t normally focus on “heavy” material like this, though I feel like the manner in which I am presenting it is not further exploitation of the boy in the photograph.

I urge all visitors to Jemaa el Fnaa to avoid supporting this form of “entertainment”.  This is child exploitation and is disgusting.  Have some common sense and don’t encourage this repugnant behavior.

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  1. Sir with all my repespect, I want just to tell you as a Moroccan that the “Halka” where sometimes fights are held is not a sign of child abuse or exploitation; it is in fact a traditional practice that consists of entertaining people. Well a facial expression isn’t enough to determine the child’s will (Any fighter even professional ones have an abnormal facial expression ), have you asked him?Moreover, You can find the same practice in Thailand, kids fighting each other using muay thai …This is just to tell you that there’s a big mistake in the interpretation of this outstanding picture. (Excuse my English )

    1. I watched the boy waiting for his bout and he was obviously not happy to be there.

      If boxing in Jemaa el Fnaa is a tradition for adults, I don’t mind two grown-ups agreeing to punch one another and kill a few braincells.

      The muay Thai comparison is interesting. I find it troubling that Thai kids training in muay Thai fight while adults bet on the outcome – would these camps exist if adults weren’t profiting off of the gambling associated with muay Thai? Those kids are trained to fight and often times live in training camps with hopes of becoming professional fighters. Is there a comparable situation here?

      In my opinion, the boys are fighting in order for adults to be entertained and place bets on the outcome. This boy did not look happy to be there and, after some searching on the part of the promoter, was matched against an older and larger boy who was much stronger and worked over the boy in the photograph. This is inherently different than two adults fighting for pride and their own entertainment.

      Thanks for the kind words regarding the photograph. I appreciate your comments and respect your opinion. Thanks for coming by.

  2. this is the most problems that morocco faces nowadays, that’s why a lot of childern are skipping from their shool just to work at jamaa alfna square ,because of poverty

    1. Thanks for coming by. I appreciate your comments.

  3. Moroccan and proud

    for the information of everybody, there is not an exploitation in this show, me personnaly I was many times volunteer to play on it in my childness. and now these are a happy memories. I think there is a salts money last this article

    1. Thanks for visiting. I appreciate your comment.

  4. I’m a moroccan too, i want just to say that is funny to do that. One day, when i was child, i used to boxe with my uncle in the Halka. It was one of my best moments. I want to tell u that if children do that, is because they want it.excuse my english

    1. I am sure that some kids want to box, though I am not sure if all kids want to.

      Thanks for coming by. I appreciate your comment and hope to see you comment on here again soon.

  5. The poignant photo, the situation and the subsequent exchanges are all troubling.
    With all due respect to other cultures , and I mean that sincerely, I wonder if this would still take place if there was no money or betting involved? Just sport?
    And the age of the children involved ? It’s agreed by Doctors , world-wide, that young children up to a certain age , are tremendously more susceptible to brain damage by physical contact to their skulls , than adults are. And this damage may not be evident for years, but most often will be permanent. That is why child boxing is banned in most countries, and where children do box they box with protective gear on their heads. Something to think about.

    1. I am not sure if this would take place absent gambling.

  6. William Dowling

    You should be careful.

    This is quite an amazing photograph. You have captured grimaces, smiles, laughter and concern on the faces of these people. But . . . this is why i like a long lens and to be far away from this potential for a problem. It is troubling and to be in this situation brings complex feelings. But to be there in that situation under those circumstances, although it leaves you troubled , I don’t think there’s anything at all you could do.


    1. This was a long lens, or at least it is a long lens to me – this was shot on the 85mm.

      Thanks for coming by and thank you for the kind words.

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