By Zia Ur Rehman
July 7, 2013
KARACHI – Pakistani Muslims’ generosity during Ramadan has encouraged the creation of a “begging mafia” and that some donations could go to militant groups, officials and social activists warn.
“Seasonal beggars” appear during the holiday to take advantage of the Islamic tradition of donating money to help the needy, Rana Asif Habib, the head of a Karachi NGO that works for the betterment of street children, told Central Asia Online.
Now the Pakistani government and religious authorities are taking steps to encourage the proper giving of zakat during Ramadan.
“In Pakistan’s specific security situation, it is important to understand that in some cases donations go into the hands of Taliban militants,” Karachi-based religious scholar Mufti Mustafa Noorani said.
“People should practice vigilance in donating money during Ramadan,” Madani said. “It is a religious duty to know where your zakat donations are going.”
Enforcing the existing laws :
While seeking alms has benefitted many in need, laws are in place to confront those taking advantage of Pakistani Muslims’ generosity.
Lahore and Islamabad authorities started to crack down on offenders in March and April, according to media reports.
Karachi authorities will do the same at the start of Ramadan, Amin Khan, a local social welfare department official, said. “We will also involve non-governmental organisations in the anti-begging crackdown.”
“After two warnings, they will be put behind bars,” Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said June 21.
Begging is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment, Karachi lawyer Zulfiqar Ali said.
Violating child rights :
Children’s rights activists express concern about a recent surge in the number of children begging. Gangs kidnap children, cripple them to make them more pitiable and trade them off to each other, forcing them to beg, Iqbal Jamil, a children’s rights social activist, said.
“It definitely violates the survival and development rights of children,” he added.
In 2012, as many as 2,317 children disappeared from Karachi and only 16% of them were rescued, according to Roshni Helpline, a Karachi-based civil society group.
As Ramadan nears, the surge in the number of children begging is evidence of organised begging cartels using innocent children to make money during the Islamic holy month, Habib said.
Dire poverty sets the stage for such a trend, the advocates said. Begging cartels, for a sum, offer to take some children off needy families’ hands and take them to Karachi to collect as much charity as possible, especially during Ramadan, Jamil said.
“Begging rackets give only 5% of the collected donations to the children who beg,” he said, adding that the adults drop off the children for begging early in the morning and pick them up at night.
Nuisance to residents :
Beggars also create minor nuisances.
“My duty is to control traffic, but it becomes difficult for us because beggars are at risk of being run over while they’re at traffic signals asking drivers for money,” Junaid Iqbal, a traffic officer in the Saddar area, said.
And confrontational beggars can make shopping difficult, residents complain. Sometimes they grab shoppers’ arms to demand money, the residents added.
“When someone refused to give them money, they used offensive language,” Abdul Rasheed, a shopkeeper in the Clifton area, said.