Afghanistan: Beggars will be arrested

KABUL, 5 November 2008 (IRIN) - A resolution by the ministers' council - chaired by Afghan President Hamid Karzai - has outlawed street begging and instructed the Interior Ministry to arrest beggars and send them to orphanages and care homes run by the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS).

"No person - man or woman - should be begging, and children and other persons must not be used for this purpose," reads a statement issued by the president's office on 3 November.

"To respect human dignity, ensure social order and in light of Islamic and domestic laws, some measures have been adopted to eradicate begging. which disgraces the Afghan people," the statement said.

The top-level initiative tasks the interior and social affairs ministries with drawing up and implementing a comprehensive plan to end street begging.

The exact number of street beggars is unclear but the phenomenon is common in urban areas.

Most of the beggars on Kabul streets are children, women, disabled or the elderly. Officials say they are prone to crime and exploitation, and sometimes engage in violent and anti-social behaviour.

Minors who beg are considered particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse and drugs smuggling, experts say.

Fake beggars

"Not all those who beg on the streets are actually beggars," Golam Gaws Bashiry, deputy labour and social affairs minister, told IRIN.

"We will first identify true beggars - those who have no other means of survival - and will send them to 'Marastoons' [care houses run by ARCS]," he said.

Bashiry said begging was a lucrative activity for some who are not really beggars. "We found up to US$1,000 on some of them [beggars] when we tried to collect them from the streets last year."

The government will set up a commission to distinguish true beggars from false ones; the process will take several months, officials said.

Afghanistan is ranked by the UN Development Programme as the fifth least developed country in the world; almost half of its estimated 26.6 million people live on less than US$2 a day, according to aid agencies.

More than 40 percent of Afghans are facing food insecurity, and the UN World Food Programme is trying to feed about eight million of the most vulnerable.