Begging an alarming phenomenon in Jordan

Sunday 11/12/2016
Several children sitting on the pavement begging from passersby in the streets of Amman. (photo by Roufan Nahas)

Amman - Jordan is concerned about the long-term negative impact on the rising number of chil­dren begging on the streets.

Children, including refugees, as young as six are found begging at various traffic intersections in the capital Amman, while the public is torn between wanting to do some­thing and uncertain that helping them is the right thing to do.

According to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Social Devel­opment, about 79% the country’s street beggars are in Amman with 2,945 beggars apprehended this year compared to 1,116 in 2015 and 400 in the same period in 2014.

“It is truly an alarming situation that needs to be resolved,” warned ministry spokesman Fawaz Ratrot. “The ministry is working hard to put an end to this issue, especially that children are driven to the streets to beg by adults and, of course, there are several cases where children carry home-made items to sell but in fact they are begging.”

“We have caught around 6,000 beggars since the beginning of the year… Some are Jordanians while others are from different nationali­ties such as Syrians and Yemenis,” Ratrot said.

In 2015 Jordan launched a cam­paign under the slogan “Begging is forbidden in Islam”, and in May 2016, the government criminalised begging, urging the public not to give money to beggars whose num­bers increase significantly during the holy month of Ramadan.

The ministry recently captured a group of Yemenis who were part of an organised begging gang oper­ating in Amman. An investigation revealed they had a leader to whom they report. Some of the collected money was wired to their families in Yemen.

At the other end of the beggar demographic is Abu Ahmad, who roams every morning between ve­hicles trying to sell chewing gum.

“I am 66 years old and have no one; my children left me, and to­day I sell chewing gum at this traffic light; sometimes people give me money without taking gum but I insist they do; others close their car window and this is not respectful,” he said with tearful eyes.

“Watching little kids risking their lives in the streets and sometimes barefooted with light clothes on during cold days makes me give away some money; it is true I will never know if they are really poor or just pretending but the scene itself makes me feel bad for them,” said Najat Abbasi, 44, a former teacher.

“It is not civilised (to have beg­gars on the street) but look at other countries; for example, the home­less in the US and Europe; poverty does not differentiate between reli­gion, race or colour,” she added.

But Rowaida Nino sees things dif­ferently. To her, begging amounts to emotional blackmail and is an easy way to make money.

“I don’t trust those beggars but I feel with them because they are maybe forced to work in the streets; I help some families because I know their situation very well by giving clothes, food and sometimes mon­ey,” she said.

“Some beggars try to play with our emotions and people fall for it. It is normal to be moved by sad scenes such as a woman with a little child sitting near the garbage con­tainer, but when you know that she has rented the child per hour you are disgusted.”

Renting a wheelchair or child, or pretending to have lost a wallet are some of the tactics beggars resort to in order to lure people.

Social expert Omar Mhana said begging was becoming a profes­sion. “For some, it is a full-time job that needs a lot of skills, but in other cases it is real, true enough to turn children to drugs and crime, and girls to prostitution… But how can we tell?” he added.

On average, the daily amount of money collected from begging is between $43 to $494, depending on the area, officials said.