A programme for juvenile welfare officers deliberates on infants being sedated for begging

Whether it is the central bus stand or the major thoroughfares in Tiruchi city, one common thing the people of Tiruchi come across is children being used for begging alms from passengers and pedestrians.

Young women, carrying infants , are seen swiftly moving from one bus to another, cashing in on the sympathy of passengers and onlookers. In most cases, these infants are under sedation. The issue came up for discussion during a session at the recent day-long training programme for the designated juvenile welfare officers and designated child welfare officers organised by District Legal Services Authority. Judicial officers and police personnel looked at the issue with an eye on eradicating child beggars at Chathiram bus stand, Junction area, and Central bus stand. They referred to various issues and problems involved in it. While police officials explained the nuisance aspect of it, judicial officers spoke on the legal procedures to be followed in resolving the issue.

P.Joseph, Checking Inspector, Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation, says women harp on the sympathy wave from passengers, mostly from other districts. He says strict action should be taken against them. It has come as a hassle-free livelihood for them. “They also exchange the coins for currency notes on a commission basis,” he says. A special sub-inspector at Central bus stand, I.Arockiasamy, who is also Child Welfare Officer attached to Cantonment police station, has been fighting against this social issue for the past several years. But reluctance on the part of women for any rehabilitation has been a bottleneck for his endeavour. On Saturday, shortly after sighting a woman with an infant, he advised her to make use of rehabilitation measures – such as providing work as maid servant and putting her child into a school. The woman politely turned down his offer saying she was already a member of the ‘Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme’ and did not need any work. She had come to Central Bus stand on Saturday, as it was a holiday for her under the scheme. She assured the police that she would not come to the Central Bus stand henceforth.

“The police department, in coordination with non-governmental organisations and other agencies can work on rehabilitation of both women and children,” Mr.Arockiasamy says. He had, a decade ago, enrolled a few child beggars into educational institutions who have since turned graduates, indicating the success of his efforts.

M.Saravanakumar, Probation Officer, says enough cruelty is being inflicted to infants used for begging. He explains the provisions of the Child Beggary Act to book cases against them. Referring to the drive taken by the police in the city a few years ago, Mr.Saravanakumar said at the end of the drive, the offenders were sent to a private home which did not yield the desired results of elimination of the nuisance. He said persons found involved in child beggars could be lodged in prisons at two places in the State – at Chengalpattu in the case of women and in Chennai in the case of men. “The offenders could be put behind bars, only after obtaining a court order in this regard,” he said, advising the police officials to obtain necessary directive from the court in this regard.

S.Martin, a human rights activist, said the police was empowered to register cases against beggars under Tamil Nadu Beggary Act. Since children are used for begging under sedative condition, legal action could be initiated under the provisions of ‘Juvenile Justice Act’.

To bring the menace to an end, Mr.Martin suggests the women should be accommodated at recognised short-stay homes, extending safety and security. Counselling should be ensured for the needy and clinical treatment should be extended, if needed. Rehabilitation should be the priority. Still more important was a strict surveillance in and around Central Bus stand and other such areas to monitor a complete transformation in women in giving up child beggary. . A good number of children could be spotted working on the streets in difficult circumstances - collecting garbage, cleaning buses and other vehicles, selling agarbathis, and flowers. Social activists are of the opinion that professional beggars force parentless children into begging. The rights to education, health and social support of these hapless children are not addressed, many complain. Malnutrition and the harmful practices they are exposed to often affect their physique and prevent their proper development.