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To give or not to give to beggars

Publication Date : 20-07-2014


Just like in the previous years, this year’s Ramadan has again witnessed beggars from everywhere hitting Jakarta’s streets. They may have been wooed by the belief that making money in the capital is easy.

They are on the receiving end of the traditional belief among Muslims that the fasting month is a period when the act of handing out alms to the poor is the most spiritually rewarding time to do so, with God opening the doors of heaven to those who give some of their wealth to the needy.

I’m always torn between my head and my heart every time beggars, especially children, women and the elderly, knock on my car window asking for money. 

Should I give them anything or not?

My head says “no” because these people are probably just too lazy to work and make a dignified living. Many are so young and seem too healthy to be living on the street and begging.

Some look like talented “actors” as they try to get bystanders’ empathy. Who wouldn’t show empathy to a female beggar with a toddler asleep in her lap?

In his first book, "Down and Out in Paris and London", George Orwell wittily wrote, “A beggar, looked at realistically, is simply a businessman, getting his living, like other businessmen, in the way that comes to hand. He has not, more than most modern people, sold his honor; he has merely made the mistake of choosing a trade at which it is impossible to grow rich”.

Some people choose to not give money to people in the street because there is no way of knowing if they are beggars or not. Instead they opt to donate their funds to a reputable charity.

There have been media reports of people from rural regions becoming “rich” from begging in Jakarta.

Last year, Jakarta sent home Walang bin Kilon, 54, and Sa’aran, 70, to Subang, West Java. They had stashed away 25 million rupiah (US$2,085) in cash and were caught in a raid.

My heart says “yes”, we should give beggars our small change or share biscuits with them because giving is a noble act of kindness and compassion, which is a fundamental teaching of any religion.

It’s poverty that drives people to the street, as the system has failed to address the fundamental problems in society, such as the ever-widening gulf between the rich and the poor. Economic policies favour capitalists and then of course we have the corruption.

Under Indonesian law begging is illegal. Article 504 of our Criminal Code (KUHP) says whoever begs in public is subject to six weeks imprisonment. Begging involving three or more people aged 16 and above means these individuals could face a maximum of three months in jail.

Based on the provision, some cities such as Jakarta and Sragen in Central Java have enforced bylaws that make begging a crime, turning a deaf ear to the public outcry. Both the beggars and the givers are subject to punishment.

Jakarta introduced an Anti-begging Bylaw in 2007 but few people are aware of it because nobody has been fined or jailed for giving their small change to beggars. Instead, law and order officers, infamous for their heavy-handed tactics, are overwhelmed by beggars flowing in from other regions. 

Despite the Constitution saying that poor and destitute children shall be the state’s dependents, and despite the bylaws, begging remains a major social problem in urban areas.

Apparently, many of our government bureaucrats and politicians are too busy enriching themselves to lift the dignity of the poor and the destitute – who are in fact victims of terrible circumstances resulting from the incompetence of state officials.

Perhaps, just perhaps, if everyone had some compassion for the poor and the destitute, this would rectify the appalling conditions that befall millions of citizens.


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