Beggars earn more than doctors in Kurdistan

Begging in Kurdistan has become a business – a type of business that exploits children and women.

Four months ago, I would have fought till my last breath to disregard the notion that a parent could have the heart to send out her or his children day after day, begging on the streets, whether in cold or hot weather. The truth is, and I say this based on first-hand interviews with beggars, there’s much more to begging than poverty. We’re not seeing the mere manifestation of poverty or the divide between the poor and rich because while there is a deepening divide, not all poor people swallow their dignity for petty cash.

Instead, what we’re seeing is an extension of illicit means of attaining money. In an interview with several young children, I asked them questions regarding their financial status and wanted to find out where the Kurdistan Regional Government or public are failing in regards to a growing number of beggars on our streets within Southern Kurdistan. A young girl, who was about 9 years old spoke boldly, pointing out that several of the other beggars were her siblings. She said, “Why do people think we want to live like this? I don’t want to live like this. I want to go to school, have mobile phones and pretty clothes like other children but we can’t afford it. Even when we go to school the other children make fun of us. They tell us we’re poor, village-like or gypsies”.

The 9-year-old girl said she faced discrimination at school because her parents could not afford decent clothing or studying materials. Her brother joined in the conversation and explained that his father pulled him out of school because “he said I would do something wrong, and that I was destined to do something wrong, so there was no point of me going to school but I really want to learn. I don’t like being out all day begging but we have no choice. What can we do? We need to pay for the rent.”

In my mind, there is no question that these children don’t want to be on the streets. They’re forced to go on the streets, and it has become inbred in them that they’re “useless, disgusting, and dirty” but they’re just innocent children and both our educational system and government is letting them down. We’re letting them down because we don’t value them. We see them as dirt while on the streets, more than often they’re shouted at, scolded and told off by drivers. Instead of thinking of solutions, we merely see them as a problem.

What I want to know is, what measures will the government take to reduce the number of children begging on the streets? The government is forthcoming in their initiatives economically and culturally, but while all of that is good (and should be seen as progressive) the hidden truth of our society’s attitude towards beggars is sickening.

On average (according to those I asked, the truth of their claims is subject to question), a beggar earns anything around 40,000 IQD to 60, 000 IQD depending on the area and this is only the amount they earn from morning till afternoon. For argument’s sake, let’s assume they earn 40,000 IQD per half-day. This means, they earn 280,000 IQD per week, which comes to 1,120,000 IQD per month. That’s approximately $962,49, which is more than what a junior doctor earns while working in the public sector. Some families send out several children per day and the total amount of money they earn is either greatly exaggerated or very appealing for parents to disregard their responsibility and force their children into poverty.

It’s not just children that beg there are adults too, particularly Syrian refugees with ID cards begging inside shops, clinics, on the streets and elsewhere. The refugee children are also forced into the ‘begging industry’, and it’s easy to spot them when they’re begging because they have a particular Kurdish dialect that is easily identifiable.

What I’m curious to learn about is the collected statistics on children abducted, abused and violated while begging on the streets. The police have not been forthcoming in releasing information in this regard, but social workers and children’s rights organisations should be paying keen attention to the current situation in Kurdistan. We might have fancy malls, and roads but we have a long way to go before this society learns to protect the vulnerable and those in need.

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