Begging in Pakistan: Circumstantial or Coercive?

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Beggar girls
Begging in Pakistan: Circumstantial or Coercive? - Anam Abdulla

Seeing handicapped men, women, and little children without shoes in the scorching heat, knocking on your window begging for spare change, might seem outrageous to some. However in Pakistan, that is almost the norm. At every signal, intersection, public park, or even outside mosques and restaurants, you will find people swimming in poverty, lacking the basic life necessities, and engaging in a profession that some regard as being devoid of dignity and respect. 

The begging industry is a complex part of the informal sector and cannot be defined precisely. It consists of a wide range of activities, wherein individuals beg for money on the basis of being poor or disabled, and sell small items like flowers or balloons. A beggar’s labor arrangement usually depends on how he or she came into this situation. There are two main reasons that people enter the profession of begging. The first one is poverty, where begging is seen as a way to make ends meet. The second one is being subjugated by the so-called ‘Beggar Mafia’. This is a gang of ruthless people who kidnap infants from the street, subject them to torturous conditions such as amputation of limbs, acid attacks, and starvation, and then send them on the streets to beg for money from commuters. The Beggar Mafia takes almost all the earnings of the beggars, giving them very little for their own expenses.

The typical profile of beggars that are driven by poverty usually includes residency in the slum areas of urban centers with small houses shared by 10-12 members of a family. There is usually never any electricity or gas in the houses and these areas do not have access to health care facilities, or public school systems. On average, men and women can earn Rs. 250-300 a day and also do odd jobs on the side to make ends meet. The beggars created by the Beggar Mafia, on the other hand, usually live on the streets, and are abused and involuntarily subjected to the use of intoxicants, making them accustomed to the street culture.

Child beggars lack access to basic necessities of life such as proper nutrition and schooling. They are subjected to poor working conditions, all forms of abuse including sexual abuse, as well as a loss of self-esteem. Their lives become a series of nightmares that they are unable to escape due to their helplessness and familiarity with the ways of street life. The begging industry creates a viscous cycle of poverty, whereas the money earned by beggars is not a sustainable means to ensure access to basic necessities, and is used by the Beggar Mafia for their illicit purposes. 

Recent estimates show that about 58.7 million out of the total 180 million people of Pakistan are living below the poverty line. The increase in the number of beggars on the street can be attributed to the rise in poverty. As a result, the future of Pakistan – which is dependent on its youth – is in danger. In order to address this issue, a two-fold action plan needs to be implemented that addresses the root cause of this crisis. First, the government needs to determine ways to eradicate poverty and hunger, which motivate the begging profession, by focusing on job creation, education, health, and other social development factors. In addition, serious action needs to be taken to negate the ‘Beggar Mafia’ that is breaking the basic clause of Article 3 of 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, which requires that the state shall ensure elimination of all forms of exploitation.