Saturday, October 01, 2011

Head counting of panhandlers in Bangladesh

Photo: Andrew Biraj/Reuters: Beggars at street intersections

BANGLADESH, ONE of the poorest nations in the world, kicked off head counts of street beggars Friday in the capital Dhaka.

Government officials said the survey was not intended to harass the beggars but to determine their needs in order to offer them alternative livelihoods.

Beggar Rehabilitation Project director Gazi Mohammad Julhas said the information of each beggar will be documented with a photo and a code number. The survey has been assigned to 10 non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

An estimated 40,000 beggars live in the capital, a city of 12 million population, many of whom are physically disabled. The project’s ambitious objective is to help them return to their villages to restart a new life, he said.

A survey team leader, who wished to remain anonymous, said the beggars are suspicious of the government’s motive. They said that as begging is banned in the capital, there is a risk that whoever admits to being a beggars could be deemed an offender.

NGO staffs say the survey could be a big challenge as beggars are constantly moving around the metropolitan area.

During the World Cup Cricket 2011 competition in February, thousands of street beggars were rounded up and sent to state-run vocational training centers, which in reality were detention centers.

Despite the government's efforts to abolish beggars, the practice remains widespread in the capital and in the up-country. Scores of beggars are regularly seen at street intersections, bus and railway stations, mosques, restaurants and in front of shopping malls.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at