AlwaysWoW! For a Great Great WoW in Life

Thoughts from me about things that are cool, that are WoW, that blow me away. Observations about businesses and people from a wide variety of life. Daily encounters - and thoughts outside the box, inside the box and without any box. New thinking, and challenging old thinking. Passionate about life, about respect, and about integrity.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Begging in Malaysia

This posting might provoke some attention, but may be it also changes a mindset here and there. The New Straits Times run this article yesterday asking for heavier punishments for beggars. Apparently they found beggars who had money hidden or pretended to have some impediment that would prevent them from “real work”. They stated that the number of beggars increased to 1,439 last year from 1,008 in 2002. Foreign beggars had also increased to 1,265 last year compared to 973 the year before.

Statistics showed the number of child beggars, especially girls, had increased substantially. Last year, there were 143 child beggars, including 60 girls. In 2002, 33 of 84 were girls.

By the way and before I start – the numbers don’t really make sense. If you add the number of foreign beggars (1,265) and the child beggars (143), you arrive at 1,408 in total. The total number given is 1,439 – so does this mean there are only 31 Malaysian beggars? But may be I get the numbers wrong, or the newspaper didn’t provide all the numbers. Whatever. I don’t want to play a statistical game. Well, one more thing with regard to this – if the number is accurate, the total number of beggars is very, very small.

Radio 4 yesterday evening had quite some emotional appeal – asking what to do with beggars. Some rough answers came about and I didn’t like it at all.

I guess, first of all, there are two types of beggars – you have the ones that are organized in a mafia-kind of setting, and those that are forced into begging since there is no other solution.

I believe in the organized version of begging, the beggars are mutilated to erect pity so that people give money. You can see heart-wrenching mutilation. I don’t think that those guys chose their profession (there are professional beggar caste in Sri Lanka) – and I believe that if they are aligned with a mafia, they are the lowest on the ladder. They might even be beaten up, if they don’t bring money. I am not saying that you have to give money but I am just throwing some light on the issue.

And there are beggars that really beg out of economic reality. Hey – you read the appeals in the New Straits Times for assistance for surgery? Or the many chain mail e-mails that go around, asking for money because a family encounters hardship? Isn’t this begging as well, just a bit more formal? How many people run in this economy to stay ahead of poverty, and run fast, just to stumble and need assistance, since they cannot cope anymore? I believe that it takes a lot for people to stand up and say, “please, community, give me some money, I lost my way.” A whole lot. I am coming from Germany where the government gives a lot of social aid to people – deserving or sometimes undeserving. But there are a lot of old people who live below the poverty line and who would have every right to get social assistance – but suffer in silence, because they are too proud to ask for help.

Malaysia has no social assistance provided by the government (as far as I know), but they have very close family connections that have been lost a long in Germany. These families serve as a social net. If there is no family to help, or the rest of the family is also not well-off, what to do? What if those people have to beg? They need help, from the society, or the government or any entity in some form. Otherwise, they slip down further and end up in a situation of violence and poverty, and their children will have no chance to ever get out of it – or only with a lot of help, luck, and money.

Can you imagine going around from place to place and ask for money? Or, if you are lucky, you are able to get some few products, books or toys or whatever, and walk from restaurant to coffee shop and back and ask people to buy your product. How many of you act nicely? Most are annoyed, wave their hand. Don’t even give a smile and say, sorry, don’t want, cannot. It works wonders, really. Try it! If they still don’t give up, you can still be annoyed, but try it at least the very first time. But how far is this step away from begging?

Malaysia is a prosperous country and blessed with a lot of people who are very, very generous. This is clearly visible from the donations that people make to those who appeal through the newspapers. But the challenge is that a prosperous country, a country that stands out, attracts people from countries that are not well off. In Europe, there is a lot of immigration from Africa, and the Eastern countries. Why? Because someone made money, somehow, may be a long time back, or didn’t make money. But he (let’s say it is a he) came and worked for a while. He will go back and say that Germany (or Malaysia) is a great country, where money can be made easily. Even if he didn’t make much. Or lost. But he cannot say that he didn’t win anything, since he would lose face. But anything that he made might be way more than would be possible to make in his own country.

It is paradise for them, living in their own country in poverty. Word than spreads. And gets changed. Stories are exaggerated. More people are attracted to the country and make the move to Wonderland. To Malaysia. Where the money grows on the trees. This is the impression they have. I have heard the stories in Africa about Wonderland Europe. People watch TV, watch BayWatch and believe that this is how life is lived. They don’t know better! Really.
This is the price of prosperity, people.

What to do with the professional beggars? I think, the ones you see are the real victims. They need help. The kids might have been kidnapped and forced into begging. The older ones have been mutilated to get pity. I believe it is important to help. Here, the government could help. The objective would be to get those behind the frontline as well. Which is a daunting task. But if those beggars cannot beg anymore, they will do something else – will be forced to do something else – which might mean robberies, burglaries, drug trade or something like this.

It is easy to say – do away with them. But solutions are needed. Begging is a result of economic prosperity and comes in different forms. Organised begging and involuntary begging. And different solutions are needed –some harder, some with some more compassion.


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