Forced Begging, Children of the Forbidden Craft
Sawsan –Pseudonym-, 16 years old, waits for the screams of her twin children, announcing their arrival into this world, so that they might accompany her in her journey of begging and wandering between the streets and traffic lights.
Sawsan comes from a gypsy environment, locally known as ‘Nawar’, members of whom take up begging as a profession and consider it a source of income. According to the director of the Anti-Begging Unit in the Ministry of Social Development, Maher Kalloub, the vast majority of this group are illiterate who neither read nor write and lack the skills to work in any trade or craft, with the exception of some simple crafts that do not provide a financial income equal to what they gain from begging.
She goes on to say,
The legislations in place are ineffective, they place the child in confrontation with the law without finding ways to prosecute those who exploit the child in the first place, who in turn find ways to bring the child out of the welfare centers and back into the street in less than a week.
She clarifies that the social factors surrounding the individual and the acceptance in their social environment of begging as a legitimate profession, in addition to the sizable income it provides, is contributing to the increase of beggars’ numbers. Despite repetitive cases being registered against them and being admitted into welfare centers, the above factors negatively affects the success of their rehabilitation programs.
Begging and Harassment
Asmahan–Pseudonym-, 16 years old, talks about young men who harassed her during her work, showing innate understanding and acceptance of what occurred and taking it for granted as a normal part of everyday life between young men and women. When asked for details of the incident by a social facilitator from Tamkin center, Khawla Abdullah, she says, “I mean when a boy asks for a girl to come with him what would he want? Unless it’s something indecent?” Confirming that she neither accepted to go with the man, nor allowed him to get close to her, while keeping an apprehensive eye towards her begging partners.
What happened to Asmahan is a frequent occurrence among girl beggars according to Abdullah. With other similar cases having developed into multiple harassments, some of which are sexual in nature, with others being physical and verbal. As those girls are often subject of verbal abuse by young men, who sometimes chase them and attempt to steal what little they accrued while being on the street, which puts them in danger.
Social Facilitator Khawla Abdullah confirms the existence of cases where the victim is exposed to familial and social circumstances that might force them into begging. As is the case of Sana –Pseudonym-, 14 years old, who begs due to the wishes of her father, who says, “If you don’t beg, your siblings will starve to death.” While he remains unemployed, and does not look for employment according to her, so she is forced to go on the streets instead of completing her education.
Abdullah sees that the process of dealing with minors (juveniles) either when conducting social studies or filing the report of their arrest is bureaucratic at best. As there is no follow up to check the veracity of the information in the reports, or to verify the reality of the conditions they live in and the pressures they are under. This is to confirm if begging has become a profession to them, or if it is a byproduct of the deterioration of their living situation and the need of their families for a primary or secondary income to live on. Which in turn leaves the door open for them to go back to the streets at any time, especially in the absence of a social protection system that cares for society’s poorest and most marginalized groups.
Safaa Al Jaioushi, spokesperson for ‘Save the Children Jordan’, confirms that these children are not the only victim of violence that undermines the foundation of societal progress, and affects the society as a whole, hence this issue should be treated in an encompassing and comprehensive manner.
She goes on to say that shielding children from violence is one of the pillars of human rights, due to the long lasting psychological effects violence has on children, and its severe consequences on their growth and development. Moreover, there are close to 152 million children involved in child labor around the world, that is approximately one in every ten children, Half of those (approximately 73 millions) are doing dangerous work including begging, which will have long-term complications.
Exploitation for Begging
The director of the Anti-Begging Unit in the Ministry of Social Development, Maher Kalloub, confirms that dealing with beggars of all categories is done according to the law, and the instructions received. Noting that the Ministry’s job is limited to apprehending the beggars and transferring them to the justice system, which in turn handles adjudication and the transfer of the juveniles among them to welfare or placement centers.
He adds that it is not in the jurisdiction of the ministry to follow up on cases after transferring them to the justice system. Moreover, the main problem with repeated begging offences lies in the legislative texts and their enforcement mechanisms, which need updating in order to better align with the nature of the criminal cases at hand.
He calls for the amendment of legislation to include harsher punishments, especially to those involved in benefiting from begging through the ‘exploitation of beggars’, and using their children and women, while offering them protection and organizing their distribution and considering those to be partners in crime. He also confirms the importance of finding judiciary tools to deal with repeat offenders especially amongst juveniles.
Experts believe that the decrease in beggar numbers is tied to the adoption of the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act 2009, which went into the second constitutional review after it was sent to the National Assembly. This law adds Jordan to the list of countries that consider begging a human trafficking violation, punishable with up to seven years in prison with temporary hard labor, and a fine of up to 20000 dinars.
The draft of the amended Prevention of Human Trafficking Act 2009, signals the modification of paragraph B of article 3 of the original law, so that it reads as follows, “the term exploitation means the exploitation of persons in forced labor, servitude, removal of organs, prostitution or any form of sexual exploitation.”
Article 9 of this law states that, a punishment of imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years with temporary hard labor, and a fine of not less than five thousand dinars and not more than twenty thousand dinars shall be enforced on anyone who has sold a person under 18 years of age, or has offered them for sale, or has bought them or promised doing so, or has committed a human trafficking violation including begging.
Struggle for Survival
Financial expert and director of the Phenix economic studies center in Jordan, Ahmad Awad, confirms that the increase in unemployment, poverty, marginalization, and exclusion rates will inevitably transform into negative social phenomena like begging. According to Awad, beggars can be divided into two categories, those who take up begging as a profession such as ‘some gypsies’, and others for whom the struggle to survive has forced them into implied begging, such as wiping car windows and selling random wares on street corners.
According to Awad, the decrease in wages and purchasing power for both individuals and families, and the lack of an inclusive social security system that guarantees the basic necessities for all layers of society, will ultimately push many of them to look for alternative ways to provide for their daily lives, including and probably the easiest of which is begging.
Awad also sees that the government has to abandon its currently applied methodology in treating poverty, which only targets poor and marginalized classes and offers some of them negligible support through unclear, and in some cases illogical basis.
He calls on the government to deal urgently with poverty and unemployment through the expansion of its social security system in line with international standards. He argues that protection mechanisms should be amended to take into consideration different social classes to prevent more people falling below the poverty line, as well as measures to guarantee fair wages that could support a dignified life, with the necessary inclusive healthcare and proper public education, and to truly push for appropriate work environment and standards for all employees.
Begging, An Economic Perspective
Sociology professor Dr.Hussein Al Khaza’ai sees that the increase in percentages of poverty and the higher number of people falling into poverty in Jordan is a reality due to the increase in the number of those unemployed estimated at 23% in the wake of the pandemic, 39% of those are educated while 40% are young people.
He also mentions that the communities most affected by the pandemic and the lockdown measures are those whose work is irregular or unstable, hence are not likely to benefit from social security and might consider that begging is justified and is a reflection of the country’s economic standing where some of the poorest and the most marginalized segment of society have been hurt by government policies.
The pandemic and subsequent lockdown main effect has been to expose people’s inability to provide sufficient sustenance and medical care, in parallel to that it also exposed the lack of infrastructure for sufficient remote learning tools available to families after schools were suspended which led to an increase in school drop out rates and some even resorting to securing secondary income to support their families, which might explain the increase in begging cases.
Al Khaza’ai confirms the importance of formulating strategies and programs to combat the rising levels of hunger in society that began to appear during the pandemic. In addition to rescinding government lockdown policies that have negatively impacted occasional workers with low income shaving a further third of their earnings that has indirectly inflated begging numbers. He concludes by saying that government efforts to combat the pandemic should not focus only on the health and economic levels, but must also take into consideration the pandemic’s and its policies’ social implications such as the increase of marginalization amongst new segments of society.
A study published by UNICEF in august 2020 in Jordan confirmed that the income of some families in Jordan has decreased, and that the number of families with an average monthly income of less than 100 Dinars (140 $) has nearly doubled since the start of Covid-19 Pandemic
The study, which centers on social and economic challenges facing the most fragile children and their parents in Jordan during the pandemic, says that 28% of families have enough funding to sustain themselves for only two weeks, while 68% of them have lost their work or business due to the pandemic.
The study, which included both Jordanian and Syrian families, further notes that “28% of children go to bed hungry during the lockdown, with this percentage dropping to 15% after the lockdown had been lifted.”
Three Dimensional Reform
Legal counsel to ‘Lawyers Without Borders’, Muaz Al Moumini, confirms that begging is a crime punishable by law in accordance with chapter 389 of the Jordanian Penal Code and its amendments number 16 of the year 1960. With the penalty being limited to no more than 3 months in prison or the perpetrator transfer by court order to a rehabilitation institution for not less than one year but extendable up to three years.
In case of repeat offending, the penalty might reach its maximum of a minimum period of four months in prison up to a year for those caught begging. Those who have been found to have solicited others for begging would face between one and three years in prison.
Al Moumini sees that the repetition in begging cases especially amongst juveniles requires a simultaneous revision of the legislation, policies, and practices. Starting with a revision of the laws concerning begging and their ability to control cases and handle juveniles as a victim, as well as inflicting harsher penalties on ‘legal guardians’ who exploit their dependents’ begging, in addition to revisiting the human trafficking law.
On the level of policies, Al Moumini suggests the formulation of a national plan with the cooperation of the National Aid Fund, civil society associations, as well as experts and specialists. In addition to setting up mechanisms to deal with this segment of society during a specified timeframe, in order to produce executive results that can be applied on the ground.
The effective application for these recommendations should begin with the suspension of amendment or development of legislation without sufficient reasoning, such as taking into consideration the social and economic aspects of individuals that reflect their true needs, in addition to working to promote the values of children’s rights, while providing law enforcement agencies with the practical, legal and executive means that permit them to deal with begging cases, and to build a national database, and provide the necessary budget to execute these practices properly.
Also among the apprehended beggars were 265 non-Jordanians, 135 of whom are juveniles.
The report indicates that the overall number of apprehended beggars in the northern region reached 787, 56% of those apprehended across the kingdom. While another 555 beggars (39%) were apprehended in the central region, with another 68 apprehended in the southern region forming just 5%.