Feb 20, 2009

Beggary on the rise

Beggars have started swarming the bazaars, roads, parking lots and even parks in all major cities of Pakistan creating nuisance for the citizens. Belonging to every age, these beggars grab the visitor as soon as one enters the market and use every possible technique to persuade one to give alms. As soon as a car stops at a signal, beggars start tapping the car windows almost to the point of harassment. Some people just give money to the beggars to get them off their back. The authorities concerned have been unable to take effective action against the beggars which encourages them to agitate the citizens without any fear. Nowadays, beggary has evolved into a full fledged profession, more profitable than a normal job for many. According to a survey, children begging on the streets earn Rs. 300 to 400 daily, which is considerably more than what they would earn working at any other place. There is a beggary mafia which abducts children, disables them and forces them to beg. These beggars are stationed at a specific place and the mafia collects their earnings at the end of the day. These gangs are so widespread that children who are kidnapped and turned into beggars have no chance of escaping the network. Although the authorities are well aware of these gangs, they have failed to tackle the problem effectively. In some cases parents forcibly send their children out on the streets to beg as people take pity on children and give them more money. One often sees small children begging with a presumably blind or handicapped parent. Some of the beggars are also quite adept at putting on weird makeup for more effect. Strangely defaced beggars can be seen at every other traffic signal, emotionally manipulating the citizens. Some of the beggars are seen riding on tricycle trolleys that move between the lines of cars posing a hazard to traffic. There are a handful of beggars who truly deserve help and are not associated with any group or mafia. These beggars tend not to harass the citizens and are quite embarrassed about their situation. However, due to the mushroom growth of professional beggars, people do not know how to distinguish between the two kinds. As a result, most of the time, the alms go to the undeserving while the actual needy ones are left out. In the presence of the Punjab Vagrancy Ordinance under which the police have the power to arrest a vagrant without any warrant, one fails to see why the authorities have failed to curb this practice till now. The performance of the Child Protection Welfare Bureau (CPWB) also comes into questions since they fail to remove children from street and work for their rehabilitation. The civil society is also responsible for the growth in beggary. We have developed a tolerance towards this menace and have become insensitive towards this issue. Local NGOs and human rights organisations have created hue and cry over the issue for many years, but have refrained from taking any action to redress this issue. Instead of solely blaming the government, the NGOs should establish rehabilitation and training centres for these beggars. It is not difficult for NGOs to raise funds for this cause, yet they choose to remain passive. The neglect of the issue at the hands of the government is lamentable. The CM of Punjab and the secretaries of welfare travel through the very streets where the beggars are present, yet they turn a blind eye towards them. The government should start by establishing rehabilitation centres to get the beggars off the streets. The government should also offer various training schemes to the beggars, at the end of which they would have some concrete qualifications. Any professional beggar who refuses to take part in such schemes should be detained and punished accordingly. The authorities concerned should constitute special teams for checking beggary in the city otherwise they would continue to exploit the citizens. The team should take round of the bazaars and signals and arrest those who are found practicing beggary.

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