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Pakistan’s begging business collects $42 billion annually: Report

NEW DELHI: Pakistan’s economy is in a precarious state, prompting the government to seek financial assistance from other nations and international organizations. This has led to the term ‘begging’ becoming a significant part of the country’s political discourse, with citizens lamenting the need to constantly seek foreign aid.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif acknowledged this issue two years ago, stating, “Today, when we go to any friendly country or make a phone call, they think that we have come to beg for money.”
While the government seeks financial help, begging has become an organized industry within Pakistan, with beggars operating in cities and towns and even being exported to other countries.
The government has recently decided to block the passports of more than 2,000 beggars for seven years and also restrict the activities of agents who facilitate this overseas begging business. Pakistani beggars primarily operate in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq.
A parliamentary probe revealed that a significant number of beggars arrested in foreign countries were of Pakistani origin, with many exploiting pilgrim visas to travel to holy sites. The Interior Ministry has offloaded 44,000 individuals in the past two and a half years, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called for increased screening before issuing passports.
Within Pakistan, begging is a highly organized and competitive business, with an estimated 38 million beggars in the country. The average daily amount collected by beggars varies across cities, with Karachi having the highest at Rs 2,000. Annually, beggars extract $42 billion, which is more than 12% of Pakistan’s GDP. Turf wars between beggars for lucrative spots are common, with some even resorting to violence.
The government has struggled to abolish beggary, and police action against beggars has often been met with resistance. In 2011, hundreds of beggars clashed with police officials in Faisalabad, throwing stones and bricks at the police station. One beggar remarked, “Since when has begging become a crime in Pakistan? We will stop begging the moment our government stops begging from the IMF and other foreign countries.”

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