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Afghanistan: Beggars Accused of Intentionally Maiming Children

Police urged to investigate rumours that vulnerable minors are at risk.
By Akmal Zaher, Mina Habib

Officials and human rights workers in Nangarhar province have warned that impoverished families may be deliberately harming their children so as to make more money while begging.

Nangialai Yusufzai, head of the Nangarhar Red Crescent, said that more and more professional beggars were arriving in the eastern province, many accompanied by sick or disabled children.

“One day I was walking down the street when I saw that a beggar had tied a child’s foot up so tightly with a bandage that his toes had turned black, and I realised that the blood flow to his foot had been stopped,” Yusufzai said.

“I unwrapped his foot and saw that otherwise it was completely fine,” Yusufzai continued. “His mother told me that she had done it because she wanted people to feel sorry for her and give her money.”

Most of the beggars are from the Jogi, an ethnic group whose counterparts in Europe and North America are often called gypsies.

Scattered across Afghanistan, the Jogi stand apart from the rest of Afghan society. They own no land or property, and spend most of their lives in tents. The men generally stay at home while the women go out to tell fortunes or beg in the cities or villages.

They have no civil rights, denied even the basic privilege of an Afghan tazkira, or identity card.

Like many outsiders, Jogi fall victim to negative stereotypes. Rumours are spread that they are not really Muslims, that they engage in promiscuity or have other outlandish practices.

Wasil Noor, the deputy minister of the ministry of social affairs and employment, said that they were looking into the situation.

“There are children who have clearly been drugged, but we have yet to find a case in which someone has intentionally been maimed,” he continued.

 “We closely observed the children who are with the beggars. We saw that the hands, legs, or heads of these children were tied with white bandages, with red colouring on them so that people would think they were injured and feel sorry for them.”

Noor said that plan to deal with street begging had been developed during the tenure previous Afghan president Hamid Karzai but never implemented because the ministry of finance had not provided the budget.

“We have proposed this to the ministry of finance once again, and we will start rounding up the beggars and their children if our proposal is accepted.”

Abdullah Abid is head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) children’s department. Although Afghanistan had signed the International Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1994, they had completely failed to implement it, he said.

Abid recounted how his office had received a report of a boy who had been hurt by his own family and was begging in the streets.

“When we went to the place, a five-year-old boy, whose face was covered with a bandage, was sitting there,” he continued. “We asked the child what had happened to his face. He replied that his mother had done this to him.

“We took the child back to his family, but and the child entered his home and didn’t come out again. We tried hard to talk to his parents, but no one came to talk to us. We reported this problem to the police, but the police procrastinated. When we went there with the police the next day, they had left that house.”

Abdul Hakim Shirzad, head of Nangarhar’s department of social, martyrs and disabled affairs, said that he had also heard reports of such abuse but was yet to see any evidence.

“I have not yet seen that these families disable their children intentionally, but I have heard from others. I have asked the security authorities to investigate this issue.”

Religious experts say that begging on the streets is frowned upon in Islam.

Mawlawi Abdul Ghafoor, a local scholar, said, “Some families force their women and children to beg for money, but Islam considers asking people for charity to be a big sin. Only people who face death due to poverty are permitted to beg.”

Nangarhar police spokesman Hazrat Hussain Mushraqiwal said that if officers found evidence to prove beggars were hurting children intentionally to earn more money, they would make arrests.

“We have been told about this issue, but we have not made any arrests in connection with this,” he said, adding that the beggars were a public nuisance.

 “The beggars really disrupt the lives of these children, people are tired of them,” he continued.

The beggars themselves, however, say they have no other options to earn a living and strenuously deny that they would harm their own children.

Near Talashi square in Jalalabad city, a female beggar sat in the sun with a naked three year old child lying in front of her.

The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, confirmed that her counterparts would pay the parents of disabled children two or three dollars a day to take them begging. She acknowledged that beggars would not pay as much to have healthy children accompany them. She herself earned between six and ten dollars each day.

But she said it was unthinkable for anyone to maim their own child so as to make money.

“No parent can bear their children experiencing even a little pain, so how can we do it? Aren’t we human beings too?” she asked.

She explained that this was the only life she and her relatives knew.

 “My black hair has turned grey from begging,” she said, pointing to her head. “And all the members of my family beg.”

This report was produced under IWPR’s Promoting Human Rights and Good Governance in Afghanistan initiativefunded by the European Union Delegation to Afghanistan.

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