China`s latest challenge: Swelling ranks of beggars

Beggars are increasingly becoming a common site in Chinese cities.

Beijing: Even as it moves up the economic ladder, China is witnessing a growth in its ranks of beggars across major cities, a trend many see as spoiling the image of the country`s growth model.

Beggars are increasingly becoming a common site in cities like Beijing and Shanghai, with some of them actually finding begging a lucrative way of earning buck.

While many people from the lower economic strata take to begging, many of them are not exactly homeless, state-run Global Times said in a report.

The now second largest economy, however, sees beggars as an image issue. Beijing police rounded up 300 beggars in a crackdown this month.

"Passengers who ride trains were encouraged to call police and inform them about beggars who disturb social order," a Beijing police officer said.

The report said many beggars are actually able-bodied who see begging as just another job and prefer it since it often pays more than a typical job and has flexible hours.

"A beggar, no matter professional or real, could make 20 to 100 yuan (USD 2.9 to 14) per day, depending on their diversified ways of begging, such as singing songs, playing music, writing tragic personal tales on the ground, using kids to forcibly beg for money," Li Yingsheng, a professor at Renmin University of China said.

Many beg in big cities, far from their native home. Ma Li, deputy head of China Population and Development Research Institute said some beggars do good business.

"Most of them do not want to live in a shelter (for beggars) as they are afraid of being sent back home, which cut off their money-making activities," Ma said.

In Beijing and Shanghai, beggars are often found near shops and bars frequented by foreigners and busy stations. Also, many beggars who pretend to be disabled are under the control and protection of gangsters, who also kidnap children and force them to beg.

In 2003, the government stipulated that help centres should be established to provide food and accommodation to vagrants before sending them back to their hometowns within a month. But hardly any beggars stay there.

Ma, however, says begging is resorted to by needy people and that only sheltering them is not enough. "A vocational training system is needed in the centre to provide vagrant people opportunities to learn work skills and get a job, and this is what we are advocating".

Other experts argue that begging is a right in any society and beggars should be given space even if the phenomenon is a social disorder.

"Begging is a normal social existence. We should give them space to beg while in the meantime resolutely eradicate the begging phenomena that bring social disorder," Zhou Xiaozheng, director of the law and sociology research centre at the Renmin University of China, said.