The South Asian nation of Bangladesh wants to do something about the increasing number of beggars migrating into its cities from the countryside. Legislation has been approved that could send many of the country's most destitute to jail for openly asking for charity. Some aid agencies are skeptical this approach will solve the problem.
Ragged beggars are a common sight on the streets of Dhaka and other cities in Bangladesh. The government wants to make their presence a rarity, if not eliminate it totally.
To that end, government officials say a new law curtailing begging in the open and on crowded streets will be strictly enforced. Violators will face up to three months in jail.
Officials say parliament on Tuesday approved a bill cracking down on beggars and it will take about a month to draft guidelines on how authorities will enforce the new law. They note that some beggars seek pity by pretending to be ill or displaying a disability. Sympathizers say most of those in such a condition on the streets really have no alternative.
The Bangladesh Finance Ministry says it wants to emulate some neighboring countries that have implemented plans to rehabilitate urban beggars by providing them with employment training programs.
The country director of the British charity Oxfam, M.B. Akther, says imprisonment and brief training schemes will not solve the problem.
"Every day thousands of beggars are coming to Dhaka city and other cities," Akther said. "So it is not the solution by putting them in jail for three months or a rehabilitation center for one month, two months. It is not the solution."
Akther and other aid agency officials say the government should focus on creating jobs in rural areas to stem the internal migration by the poor into the cities.
It is believed that several hundred thousand Bangladeshis live off begging. A survey several years ago in relatively prosperous Dhaka found that the average beggar there managed to collect about $1.5 a day. Approximately 40 percent of Bangladeshis get by on less than $1 per day.