12 August 2010

Begging -- Employment Opportunity...

This is another one to file away in the "already know that file". The idea that begging is an employment opportunity, and a lucrative one, is an idea that has been around for as long as any of us care to remember.

And, Ramadan always sees an increase of people begging on every street corner. Ramadan generally sees more people hungry, but also sees them in a more generous and giving mood. So, this time of the year is a "lucrative" one in that there are more people giving.

The fact that some individual has worked out that by coordinating the efforts of individual beggars into a collective and then taking a percentage of the daily take can make them a tidy sum, really is not rocket science. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of economics could probably work it out.

It is estimated that some 31 million Indonesians live just on or under the poverty line. The arbitrary poverty line for Jakarta is IDR 211,726 per month. I am not sure why it is IDR 211,726 and not just rounded up or down to IDR 211,500 or IDR 212,000. IDR 200 does not buy very much in Indonesia nowadays. Now, this is the kicker, and also why begging is seen as a legitimate employment alternative. It it further estimated that a beggar of average skills can make up to IDR 280,000 per day on average in Jakarta by doing nothing more than sticking the hand out with the hope of some small change.

It is true that beggars can amass considerable incomes and do relatively well. It must also be noted that they are not paying tax on this cash income (unless of course they are declaring it). I once new this bloke who used to beg at the traffic lights not far from the place I was living. He used to use a skateboard to get around. He had polio legs, and being poor meant that a skateboard was the choice he had when he was younger. Anyways, one day I took it upon myself to ask him about "his story". I am glad I did, it was enlightening to say the least.

The fella was born into what many of us would call "dirt poor" circumstances, which resulted in childhood polio and little school-based education, but a broad education know as "life" or the "school of hard knocks".

Yet, here was this fella who could have been twisted and bitter about the hand that he was dealt, but he chose not to be. His begging ways had started early and continued now into his early 50s. He had moved from a slum area in North Jakarta to a home in Bandung. He was now a part-time beggar in that he worked a roster of a "week on" and a "week off". He had himself and his family some small digs in East Jakarta.

Yes folks, a beggar with two houses! He had earned considerable sums of money. His children were well looked after and better educated in a formal sense than he was. Hence the reason this story in The Jakarta Globe recently that begging was a lucrative employment opportunity has been filed away in the "already knew that" file.

The point though is not to perpetuate the myth that beggars are doing it easy and that begging is a lucrative past time that doubles as real employment. It is a furphy to suggest such. It is government double speak designed to turn the public tide against beggars and the difficulties that they face in order to survive. In trying to turn public opinion against the poor and marginalised the hope is that the government can gradually remove these people through criminalising their activities. In this case, activities must be translated as doing whatever they can to survive.

The cold, hard reality that the government would sweep under the rug of truth is that for every "beggar coordinator" success story there are many, many, many beggars who are used and abused by the system that should be protecting them and not criminalising them.

Do not be fooled by the Government of Jakarta's talk of begging being employment. It is not employment! And, speaking of it like it is employment is irresponsible and misrepresents the desperation that many beggars face each and every day.

No comments: