SAEED HAIDER, ALBILAD Daily English Online – Come Ramadan and strategic locations in Dammam, Dhahran and Al-Khobar like mosques, super markets and crowded marketplace are swarmed by beggars mainly veiled women children and old men. The worst menace is at traffic signals where motorists are constantly nagged by begging women.
According to officials at the Ministry of Labor and Social Development Ramadan witnesses steep surge in begging . As many as 2,710 Saudi men and women beggars were caught last year by 13 offices to combat begging all over the Kingdom, the Makkah daily reported on Wednesday quoting figures released by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development.
Sociologists and experts have attributed the rise of beggary to complacency and poor monitoring by agencies and authorities involved in the fight against beggary, as well as weak oversight.
Figures released by the ministry office in the Eastern Province revealed that more than 3000 beggars were arrested last year out of which more than 2,200 were women and remaining men. Experts say that these figures do not reveal the real intensity of this menace. “In reality every locality in the cities of Dammam, Al-Khobar, Dhahran, Jubail, Qatif, Sihat and Al-Hasa are infested with hundreds and hundreds of beggars mainly women and children with no real check,” commented Ali Al-Shahri,a social worker who is involved in rehabilitation of beggars”. He said begging is not just a crime but a major social and psychological problem which should be dealt in a scientific manner.
Al-Shahri said that there was need to generate awareness among the people so that do not fell prey to this menace and succumb to emotional black mails.
In the holy month of Ramadan these beggars stoke the emotions of common people with stories of their ordeal and miseries of life. A veiled women carrying a toddler in her lap armed with a hospital certificate saying that her child is seriously is a common sight in the crowded Dammam gold market. She is master of her art and in one look identifies her prey.
Ministry officials admit that rounded up beggars who are eventually released after appropriate counseling and written undertaking that they will not resort to begging, actually return to begging.
Another social worker Misfir Al-Swaliem said most of the beggars would go back to begging because the causes that forced them into begging in the first place were still there.
“The phenomenon needs a comprehensive treatment. The beggars should be closely monitored by the concerned authorities to provide them with their minimal needs,” he said adding: “The beggars also exploit their children showing them in dirty and worn-out clothes so that people may be coerced to help.”
Social workers as well as authorities fear that the children who resort to begging are extremely vulnerable to drug abuse. These young boys ranging between 8 to 15 years do not stay at one place for fear of being arrested. Instead the move around the city, mainly at traffic signals.
“I urge all residents not to become victim of such emotional blackmails and refrain from giving money to these kids. Your one riyal could destroy that child’s life,” Misfir said.
These social workers and social organizations are demanding intense anti-begging campaigns and a mass scale awareness campaign for the residents to understand that their charity is poison to the society.
The rise of beggars is a social evil and an embarrassment to the country and reflects poorly on a healthy society, said Misfir..
According to Najlaa Hijazi, a counselor, the main reason for the rise of begging once again is that members of society are driven out of religious obligation to lend a helping hand to those in need without necessarily knowing the truth about the beggars. She said the weak monitoring from anti-begging offices is also partly to blame, as those who need assistance should turn to charity organizations for help. To eliminate this phenomenon, she said we must intensify the efforts of these offices and promote more awareness among the community.
She said most beggars are not citizens but rather expats of various nationalities who use young children and women in order to collect more money. She said such groups take advantage of the goodness of society members in order to get money, noting that we must establish an organization that helps such beggars find decent jobs to support themselves.