When last November's global climate summit in Marrakech devolved into a diplomatic mess, I took an afternoon away from the conference and went with Taylor Le, our creative director, and the Moroccan photographer Ali Berrada to visit a local home for abandoned children. On the way there, we walked past teenage boys in spiffy tracksuits trying to interest us in hashish; past unofficial tour guides who spend half their time pestering tourists and the other half dodging police; past vendors who say they can get you all kinds of reptiles that are endangered or illegal, if you're discreet and willing to pay. Politely declining these offers, we found our way to the Marrakech office of La Ligue Marocaine pour la Protection de l’Enfance (LMPE), which ministers to the city's illegitimate children.
When you hear about the worldwide black market for child labor, you might not always consider the religious, social, and bureaucratic forces that help make those children vulnerable to trafficking in the first place. The illegitimate children of Morocco constitute something of an invisible class: no papers, no last name, and a steep path—if any—to a stable life. Too often, such children fall through the cracks and end up as indentured laborers. But in Morocco, LMPE recognized their vulnerability and started working on their behalf. In this issue, you'll find Berrada's photo essay, which tells the story of these children and the dedicated adult caregivers who are bringing them new hope.
Over the year since that visit to LMPE, our editors have given a lot of thought to people and problems that linger out of sight. Accordingly, as we set to planning this special issue of the magazine, we treated black markets not merely as a source for lurid stories, but also as a tool for seeing. Black, gray, or informal markets help us perceive the limitations of the mainstream economy; they shade the edges of the commerce that we officially engage in, and, by contrast and relief, indicate just how much the official account leaves out. Black markets can reveal how the world's problems are connected, and the larger patterns surrounding these markets can point to important—and novel—solutions. They are a better indicator of the true state of a country than its stock exchange—from the vendors that fill in where the government doesn't, to the exchanges that are vital to the functioning of a populace but that can't be acknowledged openly.
A nation's laws are a means of distributing money and power, but they're also a story that we tell ourselves. Sometimes that story is incompatible with the way the world actually works, because laws are built to serve some people better than others. In the gulf between the story and the reality, there are lives and livelihoods at stake. There are things happening in the margins and the shadows—things of great importance. Those are the stories we have chosen to tell in the black market issue of Pacific Standard.
A version of this story originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Pacific Standard.