No one chooses to be a beggar . Yet on any given day, thousands of children, adults and mothers carrying with babies in their arms can be seen in the country’s major cities , begging on the streets. The sight of such poverty can be heart- wrenching , and g enerous Indonesians often give what they can even when begging has become commonplace .
Begging is a problem that needs to be addressed. The Jakarta city government’s solution, however, is not the answer . City authorities have started to arrest both beggars and those who give them money , hoping to deter the practice by enforcing a 2007 bylaw that makes begging illegal. Making the act illegal, however, will not stop the practice if the underlying factors are not addressed .
The 2007 city bylaw calls for a fine of up to Rp 20 million ($2,000) or 60 days in jail for anyone caught giving money to beggars. Officials s ay the bylaw is not only aimed at ridding the streets of the unsightly beggars, but also at preventing organized begging operations by syndicates, an increasingly common phenomenon in large urban centers . That may be, but the enforcement of the bylaw will take a toll on th ose people who have no other recourse but t o beg.
Amidhan, t he chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI ) , was more to the point , saying that although he favored the implementation of the by law, the authorities should also enforce it selectively. He said t hose giving money to people w h o were really in need , such as the handicapped and the elderly w ho could no longer work for a living, should be exempted.
But a law is not effective if it is only selectively enforced.
The longer-term solution must be to provide jobs and opportunities for the urban underclass. These people often do not have access to education or income that allows them to buy food and pay for shelter . That we have beggars is an indication that both the government and society at large have failed to adequately address this issue.
To take children off the streets, the government must provide free or subsidized education that will enable them to find jobs. As part of this education, they must be taught skills that they can later use to earn a living .
Women can also be provided with simple jobs , which will not only give them income , but self-esteem as well . Many of these women can be employed in cottage industries, such as weaving or handicrafts, or given micro-credits to help them start up their own businesses with some training.
Punishing beggars and those who give them money sends the wrong message and promotes the wrong values. Instead, the city authorities should strive to create economic opportunities that foster a more equitable society , where even the poorest have a chance to better themselves through hard work.