Those 15 seconds, when you’re anxiously waiting for the red signal that is just about to turn green- a small child comes up to your car sticking his face in the window as hard as he can to make himself seen, or holding consumer goods, like tissue packets, biscuits, combs etc. asks you to buy something from him. Sometimes, they run to your front windscreen and start wiping the windscreen with water looking so dirty as if it was an algae habitat. Or sometimes, they just come to you selling their prayers for minimal change. And the ordinary man, thinking that he can do a good deed for the day takes out a shiny 5 rupee coin or a ten rupee note, and hands it over to that child.
Have you ever thought where that money goes? Shocking as the truth always is, the children don’t keep the money for themselves. Shocking as the truth is, generous donations compiled together total upto a minimum of 200-250 rupees every day. Wow! a beggar earning a basic wage. Even my driver earns the same amount, doesn’t it seem stupid that he has to earn it the hard way? But then again, you can’t blame the beggars themselves. There is an underlying truth.
For every street, every intersection, every shrine, public park or any other feasible site for begging, there exists a mafia, that ’employs’ children and sometimes adults to work for them, by begging on the road and submitting them the money at the end of the day. Anything less than the required amount, the beggars are threatened and beaten up for their lack of ‘motivation in their professional career’, anything more, they get to ‘keep the change’ and spend it. Even those destitute and malnourished babies we see women carrying are actually rented from households and used as a tool for sympathy.
“The people I worked for made me beg and use drugs. I was addicted to ‘solution’,” says Ansar, a boy rescued off the streets of Hira Mandi, Lahore’s red-light area, by the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau set-up in 2004.
“They burned my arm and my stomach with solution, so that I could beg more,” he says when inquired about a scar on his arm. The left side of his entire chest is burnt down to his stomach. “I went to a doctor in the neighbourhood who took me to a hospital where I had to stay for a month and a half,” he adds. Ansar had to give 70-80% of his daily earning to the mafia who employed him.
Another one, Haider from Kasur recalls, “I was 10 years old when I ran from home; then Bashir Dare-ala took me, but I ran from home again, but he got hold of me one more time. The gang took money from my family, Rs500 or sometimes Rs1,000, saying they provide for my meals three times a day and give me shoes and clothes.”
Such is the story for the everyday begging child. The government, silent on this matter. Investigations were ordered in 2004 but got nowhere at all. The public is confused, on whether they should give money to these poor and helpless kids, or not do so in order to stop funding for drug barons and warlords. Steps must be taken to stop the beggary mafia because the number of such mafias becomes out of control of the government.