Involvement of children in begging flagrantly violates their survival and development rights
By: Amir Murtaza
Child beggars are not an uncommon sight in Karachi and almost on every roundabout, pavement, or in front of a mosque, one can see them asking for alms. However, a visible increase in the number of children has been seen since the beginning of the Islamic Holy month of Ramadan. A sudden surge in the number of child beggars clearly indicates the presence of organized beggar groups using innocent children to multiply their earnings during Ramadan. The involvement of children in begging flagrantly violates their survival and development rights.
Hassan Shahid, a development economist, pointed out that, “In Pakistan, and in other South Asian Countries, people have the tendency to provide alms or charity to poor people. Due to such trend, begging has become quite rampant because a section of people are more than happy to give money to beggars, particularly children.” He, however, maintained that poverty, unemployment, and hunger are rampant, mainly among people already living at the bottom of the pyramid. Additionally, the state does not have much resource to provide any substantial relief to poor and destitute people. The situation has left no option for the poor people to beg money or food to survive in this situation.
It is important to mention that the Article 3 of Constitution of Pakistan clearly mentioned that, “The State shall ensure the elimination of all forms of exploitation and the gradual fulfillment of the fundamental principle, from each according to his ability to each according to his work”.
Furthermore, the Article 38 mentions that the State shall:
(a) Secure the well-being of the people, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, by raising their standard of living, by preventing the concentration of wealth and means of production and distribution in the hands of a few to the detriment of general interest and by ensuring equitable adjustment of rights between employers and employees, and landlords and tenants;
(b) Provide for all citizens, within the available resources of the country, facilities for work and adequate livelihood with reasonable rest and leisure;
(d) Provide basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing. housing, education and medical relief, for all such citizens, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, as are permanently or temporarily unable to earn their livelihood on account of infirmity, sickness or unemployment;
(e) Reduce disparity in the income and earnings of individuals, including persons in the various classes of the service of Pakistan;
Beggary, without any doubt, is an outcome of poverty; however, Arshad Hussain of Haroon Memorial Welfare (HMW) observed that greed is also a major cause in increasing number of beggars in big cities of the country. He added that some people are truly in need of financial help and the society should help them to minimize their problems. Arshad Hussain, however, remarked that organized groups exploit the pathetic situation of poor families and take their children to collect as much charity as possible, especially in the month of Ramadan.
Not only organized groups or beggar mafia exploit the innocence of children for their nefarious motives but parents also send their little children on the streets to beg. I met with Nasir at very busy local market where he was selling tissue papers and combs. Nasir told me that people, especially women, give him good amount and don’t take tissue papers or combs. He is not aware of his total earning in a day as his father takes the charity money from his pocket after frequent intervals. He, however, believed that in a day he earns Rs. 300 to Rs. 500. Nasir’s father was also standing nearby as his all four children, two boys and two girls, were in the same market.
Khurshid is only ten and he begs at a very busy roundabout of the city. Khurshid belongs to rural areas of Punjab and came to Karachi along with his maternal Uncle and five cousins. He earns more than Rs. 400 everyday and handed over all the money to his Uncle in the evening. I have noticed that the little boy wears no sleepers and his foot was badly injured.
Sonia is a victim of deadly Polio virus. She is eight-year-old and live in a squatter settlement in Karachi. She, along with her mother and two little sisters, begs at a food street located in an affluent vicinity of the metropolitan. Sonia informed that she has five sisters and two brothers. Her father is a heroin addict and therefore he doesn’t do any work. Sonia’s brothers also beg under the surveillance of her Uncle while elder sisters stay at home. Sonia told that due to Polio, she faces difficulty to walk for long distances, especially in scorching heat and added that, “I want to stay at home with my elder sister but my mother doesn’t allow me to do so.” It was observed that people give more charity to disable children as compare to normal children.
Abdul Qadir, President Social Research and Development Organization (SRDO), observed that begging has become an industry and the beggars, including child beggars, work in their stipulated areas. Abdul Qadir has done a small research on the patterns of child begging in Karachi and informed that, “It is a general assumption and some literature on the issue mentioned that beggars are very happy people as they live on day-to-day basis without worries, shame and dreams.” He added that certainly child beggars earn some money during the whole day but these children just get very few rupees from their leader or parents, which is even not sufficient for them to eat adequate food. The President of Social Research and Development Organization (SRDO) observed that, “It may not be difficult to provide one time meal to a poor child; however, fighting against beggar mafia certainly requires much work, both from government and non-governmental originations.”
Deplorably child beggary is socially acceptable in Pakistan. Therefore, the society at large has failed to recognize it as a gross violation of child rights and have harmful affect on their education, health and development. Additionally, the involvement of children in beggary has made them vulnerable to physical violence, sexual abuse and drug abuse.
Article 19 of the UN Convention in the Rights of the Child (CRC) mentions:
1. States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.
2. Such protective measures should, as appropriate, include effective procedures for the establishment of social programmes to provide necessary support for the child and for those who have the care of the child, as well as for other forms of prevention and for identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment and follow-up of instances of child maltreatment described heretofore, and, as appropriate, for judicial involvement.
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography was entered into force on 18th January 2002.
The States Parties to the present Protocol,
“Considering that, in order further to achieve the purposes of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the implementation of its provisions, especially articles 1, 11, 21, 32, 33, 34, 35 and 36, it would be appropriate to extend the measures that States Parties should undertake in order to guarantee the protection of the child from the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography”,
“Considering also that the Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development”.
Pakistan had ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on 12th December 1990. Furthermore, in 2011 Pakistan had become the 144th country to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography.
Advocate Ashraf Suleman believes that Pakistan’s ratification to International Conventions and Protocols has made Pakistan a part of international efforts regarding the protection of children from violence, exploitation, neglect and discrimination. The Karachi based Advocate informed that Pakistan’s domestic legislation also prohibits beggary and give powers to police to arrest the beggars. He, however, maintained that the issue of beggary is multifaceted and therefore police, keeping in view their resources, may not be able to solve the problem alone. He suggested that police should make targeted crackdown against organized criminal groups and beggar mafia rather than arresting beggars, including children, from the streets and roundabouts. Additionally, the Ministry of Social Welfare should mobilize their resources and act as a gatekeeper to protect marginalized groups, especially children, from exploitation.
It is really commendable that the Provincial Assembly of Sindh has passed the Sindh Child Protection Authority Bill on 16th May, 2011 and assented to by the Governor of Sindh on 9th June, 2011. According to the document, the Minister-in-charge of the Social Welfare Department shall be the Chairperson of the Authority while the Secretary, Social Welfare Department shall act as Secretary/Member. And, the Child Protection Authority shall have the following powers-
(a) To coordinate and monitor the child protection related issues at the provincial and district level;
(b) To ensure the rights of the children in need of special protection measures;
(c) To support and establish institutional mechanisms for the child protection issues;
(d) To make necessary efforts to enhance and strengthen the existing services of different children welfare institutions;
(e) To set minimum standards for social, rehabilitative, reintegrative and reformatory institution and services and ensure their implementation;
(f) To supervise in the light of minimum standards, the functions of all such institutions established by government or private sector for the special protection measures of the children;
(g) To set minimum standards for all other institutions relating to the children (like educational institutions, orphanages, shelter homes, remand homes, certified school, youthful offender work places, child parks and hospitals etc) and ensure their implementation;
(h) To review laws, propose amendments in the relevant law, wherever necessary, so as to bring those in conformity with the relevant international instruments ratified by Pakistan and to propose new laws;
(i) To recommend development of a Policy and Plan of Action for the children;
(j) To monitor and report on the violation of the national and provincial laws and international instruments and take suitable remedial measures for the protection of the child;
(k) To set up child protection management information system and prepare annual reports;
(l) To mobilize financial resources for programmes relating to special protection of children through provincial, national and international agencies;
(m) To promote and undertake systematic investigation and research on child protection issues;
(n) To initiate through relevant authorities, prosecution of the offenders when children are victim of the offence;
(o) To establish and manage the Fund;
(p) To do such acts as are ancillary and incidental to the above functions;
(q) To investigate or cause investigation, on its own or upon a complaint, into any matter having bearing on the interest of the children; and
(r) Any other functions, which may be assigned to it by Government.
It is certainly appreciable that the functions of Sindh Child Protection Authority are quite comprehensive for the protection of children; however, the implementation of these fine words into actions is still awaited. One can hope that Ministry of Social Welfare, Government of Sindh, will take the lead and establish a real child welfare mechanism in the province.
The problem of child beggary has been in practice for a very long time in Pakistan. No doubt child beggary leads to many social problems; however, it is a fact that government does not have adequate financial and human resources to solve this deep-rooted problem. It is a high time that institutional donor agencies, especially those working for the emancipation of children, should come up with concrete plans and provide required resources for the eradication of child beggary in the country. Moreover, a comprehensive research on child beggary should be carried out to understand the problem in totality.