THE sight of children with their poker faces lost in the trackless jungle of pain, women with reptile eyes and unkempt hair and disabled and disadvantaged old people begging throughout the day and the night across Pakistan’s streets is a grim and constant reminder of the millions who live in abject poverty.
Begging is one of the most ancient pandemics in the world. Pakistan is fraught with beggars of all shapes and ages.
From a child barely able to talk and walk to a young educated adult to an old disabled person, and from a needy to an expert to an appointed professional, many people are seen to be buried in the curse of begging. In our part of the world, beggary mafia has turned into a form of ‘organized crime’.
The organizers have criminal intentions to maximize profit for themselves by forcing people, mostly children, to beg.
There is a hand supporting every palm soliciting alms. Children are kidnapped, transformed and traded between different begging gangs.
The gang leaders exploit people by preying on their economic and financial vulnerabilities.
The social evil of beggary is destabilising and demoralising our nation and giving birth to uncertainty and insecurity.
While poverty is real, begging is quite often carried out in organized plans and gangs.
Groups and gangs use advanced technologies such as smartphones, emails, and modern transportation systems to plan and implement their mafia goals.
For example, smartphones are used not only to beg, but also to trace the location of the beggar, to inform beggars about law enforcement activities and warning them when “anti-begging squads” are near.
Motorbikes are used to help the member beggars to disappear from the sight of danger.
The beggar children are mostly those who were first abducted by mafia, and then turned into a hideous appearance or disability. The street beggars do not keep the money for themselves.
For every street, every intersection, every shrine, every public park, there exists a mafia that employs children and sometimes adults to work for them.
There is a huge influx of institutionalised begging mafia to our land and it is the responsibility of people at the helm to take action and find solutions in an appropriate and humane manner.
A big proportion of Pakistan’s population is below the poverty line. Begging has become an occupation in today’s world. The beggars masquerade or use different guises as their emotional tools.
Fake blinds, fake disabled and fake dumb can be seen in every nook and cranny of our country.
Beggars deliberately mutilate and disfigure themselves to get more money and sympathy from people.
Orphaned and under-privileged children are at the highest risk of exploitation and slavery.
The sad reality is that the begging children are even unaware of what they are being forced to do.
Beggars working under the protection of different mafias are also expected to be involved in crimes such as robbery, drug trafficking, kidnapping and sometimes prostitution as well.
The existence and addition of the beggar mafia in Pakistan is a clear reflection of state failure due to the prevailing political, social, and economic conditions
. Based on current data, beggar mafia is likely to grow and flourish; criminal begging groups are becoming more complex, as they network and collaborate with other illegal organizations, and incorporate other planned criminal activities into their agencies.
Beggars have existed in human society even before the dawn of history. Not only anti-beggary units, but we all are equally responsible for cleansing our society from this mafia.
There is no law to counter this begging business and the social evils that it carries with it.
Everyone now and then as your car stops at the traffic signal a hand knocks on the window asking for money.
This puts one in a dilemma, should I give him or not? Giving to a beggar is an impulsive action, something that makes you feel good. But instead of giving money to beggars we can fulfil their needs.
If a child asks for food, give him food. If a man says he needs to pay the school dues of his son, go and pay for him.
If a woman says she needs to get milk for her little one, go and buy her milk. If the person is capable of doing labour, offer them work.
If a man says he needs to pay his house rent, go and pay his rent. Nipping it in the bud would help us counter this mafia.
—The writer is an English literature and linguistics graduate based in Islamabad.