Jakarta Cracks Down on Beggars During Ramadan
17 September 2009
For Muslims, the holy month of Ramadan, which ends in a few days, is
not only a time of fast and prayer, it is also a time to be generous to
the poor. In the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, beggars flood in from
the countryside in the hope of benefiting from the spirit of giving.
But they all risk being arrested for violating the city's ban on
begging. Solenn Honorine recently followed one of the raids.
|Passengers wait for train at Jakarta train station as Indonesians living in capital city begin their exodus to their home provinces for end of Ramadan holidays, 17 Sep 2009 |
Eight agents from Jakarta's Social Welfare Agency start their anti-beggar raid with a short prayer, eyes down at their feet.
are off to a productive start. Siti, a 55-year-old woman, is already
seated in the dingy truck. She looks scared, clutching the small cloth
bag that contains all her possessions.
She says that she was
just standing on a street corner where a woman gave her money. Then a
Social Welfare agent locked her up in the hot truck without any
explanation. She says she was too afraid to ask why she was being
Siti faces a long afternoon. The truck roams the wide
avenues in downtown Jakarta, stopping under each of the bridges that
lead to the Transjakarta bus-way. They are busy passages favored by
beggars who hope to get a few coins from the commuters.
|Law forbids begging on street
years ago, the Jakarta administration passed a law that forbids begging
in the streets, and punishes people who give money to beggars. This
month, almost 1,600 beggars have been arrested during the daily raids
organized in the city.
One man runs away when he spots the black
caps of the Social Welfare agents. But Sari, a 33-year-old woman, can
not run as fast with her four-month-old daughter sleeping in her arms.
She shakes with fear when the agents ask her to follow them.
huddles over her baby. She says her husband is dead, and she has no
other means but begging to support her infant. Between sobs, she swears
that she has no boss, that she is here on her own.
|Raids target organized crime
target of the raids are the organized crime syndicates that round up
people from the countryside, bus them to the capital and then collect
the money they make from begging. Ramadan is the month when they are
Budiharjo, who heads Jakarta's social welfare
agency, explains that even though some beggars are indeed poor and need
help from the state, during Ramadan up to 80 percent of them come from
outside the capital, and most are working for syndicates. He says that
this disturbs social peace and should be stopped.
Wharda Haf, who is the president of the Urban Poor Consortium in Jakarta, disagrees with this argument.
trying to hide poverty behind all the skyscrapers. Instead of
addressing the problem, which is poverty, they issued this law
criminalizing poverty, which to me is off the target. They know it
doesn't solve any problem because every year it will be the same. You
know, it's like a vicious circle that doesn't have an end, and is just
wasting a whole lot of taxpayer money," said Wharda Haf.
raid has been going on for two hours. Twelve people have been caught
and will be sent either to their home villages or to a detention
center. Most look lost, afraid; but not Didi, a disabled man who
struggles to keep his balance in the road bumps.
to laugh at it all. He says life has changed. Two years ago, he used to
be free to go wherever he wanted. But he is not going to worry about
being locked up or sent back to his village. That is life, he says.
up the beggars feels like trying to fill a leaking vase. It has no end.
Officials estimate that after the Idul Fitri holidays that mark the end
of Ramadan, a quarter of a million newcomers will flock to Jakarta.
Most of them will be poor, most of them will not have a job, but most
of them will be dreaming of finding a better life in the shade of the