Child beggary in Pakistan | By Ilsa Tariq


Child beggary in Pakistan

CHILD beggary is often overlooked as a practice simply inhabited as a result of poverty – deeply embedded in the social institutions of third world countries with most prominent being Pakistan. Undoubtedly, it stands as a violation of fundamental child rights as established by the protection framework of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) – evidently falling under the umbrella of the Worst Forms of Child Labour. Such a practice is considered a menace to society due to its complex nature: a product of human trafficking.  According to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, children who are below legal age are considered as trafficked individuals if they are located from one area to another for the purpose of exploitation – even if they “agreed” to it.

Child begging can also be categorized as an ‘organized crime’ for giant mafias are behind such an exploitative practice. A regional survey was carried out by ILO (2006) in which 210 beggars were surveyed in Sri Lanka, 200 in Bangladesh and 198 in Pakistan. Although the scope of the report was limited, it highlighted that 34% of the beggars interviewed were controlled by organized mafias and forced into beggary. It is rare for such child traffickers to undergo prosecution for their acts. However, there have been instances of accountability being established when victim protection was upheld by the Government of Bosnia – demonstrating sustainable law enforcement and setting a prime example in 2010 in regards to a forced begging case

In Pakistan, beggars comprise up to 11% of the total population and now emerge as one of the most organized crimes – requiring elimination through policy formulation.  According to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), the number of children who beg on the streets of urban cities within Pakistan amount to around 1.2 million; while the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) records the number at around 1.5 million.

One of the harshest trajectories of such a dilemma is the influence of mafia beggars on child beggars who are trained professionally by gangs and then inhumanely tortured for running away. This prevents them from speaking up about their mafia networks and as a result, remains stuck in such a vicious cycle. Such a form of child exploitation stems from poverty and unemployment – leading to kidnappings by powerful mafia groups. Provincial governments in Pakistan have failed to conduct surveys on child beggary; but according to estimates, the majority of 22.84 million out-of-school children have been involved in it.

On 12th November, 2018 – a ban on child beggary was imposed by the Sindh government while social welfare departments were instructed to bring child beggars to welfare centres and a new facility in Korangi. While such a step may attract nationwide praise, loopholes emerge as it fails to recognize complex factors that led to children on the streets in the first place. The subject of child welfare has been devolved to the provinces after the 18th Constitutional Amendment. However, at the Federal level, this falls on the shoulders of the Chief Commissioner, ICT and the Ministry of Interior.

Many legal provisions are in place to combat such a menace; primarily being the Vagrancy Act, 1958 – under which the issue of child beggary is dealt with. Moreover, a Child Protection Institute is being established under the ICT Children Protection Act 2018. The mandate of the institute is to receive reports of children who are in need of protection and care. Based on reports, whether a child requires care under the provisions of this act, services from the relevant department or institution for protection and care of a child should be made available. The institute will maintain a record of case management reports of a child in need of care. Collecting and maintaining case management data provided by Child Protection Officers, maintaining and updating data on child abusers and persons convicted of offences against children will also fall under the responsibilities of the institute. Thirdly, under Article 25-A of the Constitution, free and compulsory education is provided to all children from the age of five to sixteen years. Accordingly, the Free and Compulsory Education Acts have been promulgated at ICT and Provincial level to provide education to children aged 5-16. These initiatives will contribute to erase child beggary.

—The author is a freelance writer based in Islamabad contributing to National Press.