Kabul's Cynical Beggars

Desperate Afghan beggars exploit children to bolster their earnings.

Kabul's Cynical Beggars

Desperate Afghan beggars exploit children to bolster their earnings.

Nafisa has found it hard to feed her family ever since her husband was blinded in a rocket attack on their home in Kabul’s Dehmazang district. So she has enlisted the help of her children, and now hires them out to the city’s professional beggars.

Afghanistan has no social security system, and elderly and disabled people begging on the streets are a regular sight. And while many are in genuine need, many more employ cynical tactics to prick the consciences of passers-by.

For Kabul’s full-time vagabonds, a couple of hungry-looking youngsters at their feet can help the day’s takings soar. And though the children make very little, those few extra afghanis are the difference between survival and starvation for Nafisa and thousands like her.

“Most days I make 100,000-150,000 afghani - 2.5-3.75 US dollars - between renting out the children and my own begging. That’s enough money for our daily needs,” Nafisa told IWPR. “Despite the fact that most people in the city have their own money worries they still help me. Most of them have a very good attitude.”

Mohammad Hassan brought his family to the capital to escape the desolation of their life in the Soof Valley, 200 km north-west of the capital in Samangan province. With no job and no home, he felt he had no option but take to the streets.

“I have been begging in Kabul for seven months and make enough money for my family to survive. If I was able to find food for my family any other way I wouldn’t beg, but what can I do?” he asks.

Hassan hires out up to five of his own children a day at 20,000 afghanis each. One of his customers is Kamal, a professional beggar who came to Kabul from Laghman province, 100 km to the east.

“Begging has become my profession and I can’t do any other work. I hire other people’s children because if I don’t, people won’t give me any money,” he said.

“I pay these children daily and know that they are being deprived of their education, but that’s something for their parents to worry about, not me.”

The problem is so big that the authorities are struggling to cope, although they’ve made some headway in tackling one of its distressing aspects - the exploitation of disabled children.

The Kabul Nursery provides education, support and aftercare for the youngsters and handicapped adults forced onto the streets. The former receive schooling while the latter are taught skills such as tailoring, embroidery and carpentry.

Centre deputy Safiullah Sahadat told IWPR that, contrary to popular opinion, the majority of Kabul’s beggars are not physically incapable of working. “These professional beggars are depriving children of their futures by hiring them from their parents so passers-by take pity on them,” he said.

Notwithstanding the centre’s efforts, such exploitation is bound to continue for as long as long as Afghanistan remains impoverished and Kabulis continue to take pitty on the beggars. “They are sitting on the roads in their dirty, ragged clothes with their small children all through the year. We should do everything we can for them,” said Haji Gulbaz, a driver.

Mohammad Naseem Shafaq is a freelance journalist in Kabul.

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