Licensing Street Beggars in Thailand, Hurting the Abused Rather than the Abusers
Registering Street Beggars
The Thai government recently passed a law revising Thailand’s laws on begging in public areas. The new law replaces the Beggar Control Act of 1941 which punished gangs and people for trafficking people for begging. Under the new law, those who beg on the streets are required to obtain licenses in order to pander for money. This includes not only women with hungry children but also includes street singers and musicians blocking walking paths.
Those who are found to be in violation of the order can be fined as much as 10,000 baht and/or jailed for up to a month. Traffickers and those who benefit from the begging can be fined for up to 30,000 baht and/or jailed for up to three years. If government officials are a part of the conspiracy, they can be fined up to 50,000 baht and/or jailed for up to five years in prison.
The law also provides that truly poor beggars or elderly Thai citizens who do not have any means of assistance will be transferred to a welfare facility without being charged with a crime. Non-Thais and children will be dealt with existing immigration laws and child welfare laws.
In a nation filled with Buddhist temples and giving people, I do not see begging as a major issue except for areas frequented by large numbers of foreigners. It is rather distressing to see the same woman holding a sleeping baby or a man without legs lying flat in the middle of the sidewalk every day begging for money. I occasionally see random homeless men with probably some mental problems walking the streets but they are not the same person.
Do I give them money? No, I do not give them money. I expect that most of them are placed there every morning and picked up every night by organized criminal gangs. As long as the organized criminal gangs continue to profit from these activities, they will continue to traffic people including young children into the city. Young children who are used as props for beggars or begging in the streets should be removed according the chapter 3 of the Child Protection Act of 2003 which states that the government has a duty to protect the welfare of children by providing assistance or placing them in protective care.
There are some individuals who do not have a means of maintaining a permanent job because of physical or mental impairments. The primary preference is that they should not be on the streets but this is Thailand, a relatively wealthy but still economically developing nation. There are NGOs and Thai charities like the Thailand Association of the Blind and the Thai Disabled Development Foundation who assist people with physical and mental impairments. The law also provides for government assistance to assist them in becoming registered.
I do not see homeless beggars as a major problem in Thailand. Thailand has a strong social safety net of families and Buddhist temples to assist those in need. However, for those homeless in the streets, the new law will assist in reducing their numbers significantly and provide a pathway for those remaining to be in a system where they can obtain assistance.
There’s definitely a Biblical Verse, a Confucian Riddle or a thought from the Buddha itself about the futility of handing a paper that tells the recipient to hand over money to a recipient who is asking for money himself. This is definitely not a problem unique to Thailand and the ways in which the problem is being handled is again not unique…. it’s definitely not wise, but not unique to Thailand either.
Beggars apparently can be choosers –The major excuse that we hear from people who agree that beggars need to just go away is always the same: “they’re not real beggars,” or “they’re being controlled by bad people.” I actually mostly agree with that, but let’s just look at those two possibilities.
“They’re not real beggars”makes the allusion that they’re either secretly rich or simply that they’re not lacking – they’re doing this as a job. In that case, I suggest you sit with them for a whole day? Start counting the money they make. Does it feel like a real job, would you like to apply? Is it perhaps that they have to spend 12 to 15 hours in the sun, literally throwing their pride and dignity away, looking at each person who stares at them in disgust and passes by. If they can make a “living” through that ordeal, then they deserve the amount of money they begged for. Begging might just be a job after all.
“They’re being controlled by bad people.”This most likely true… but it’s just an easy way to dismiss the problem. It is as if the fact that being seemingly controlled by a shadowy group stronger than you and I simply mean that nothing can be done and we should just accept it. If they are only pawns in a bigger game of chess then how can jailing beggars help in any sort of way? If that shadowy group is powerful enough to control this racket, they’re probably smart enough to simply find new pawns.
You can believe that they are being used, just be sure to be outraged when laws are enacted and decisions are made that hurt the abused rather than the abusers.
In any modern society, there are problems which need to be confronted and rectified. Street beggars is an issue for both rich and poor countries. There are many perspectives on the best way to assist those who live on the streets. We would love to hear your solution to the issue.
By Robert R. Virasin and Bruno Roussel
Mr. Robert R. Virasin is a licensed U.S. Attorney and managing director of Virasin & Partners. Mr. Bruno Roussel is the head of the games department at the SAE Institute and dabbles in humanitarian causes. Robert Virasin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.virasin.com.
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