Monday, September 7, 2009

Think twice before you give alms in Jakarta's streets!

Taken from the original source: The Jakarta Post. Picture from The New York Times Online

The arrest of 12 Jakartans for giving alms to beggars at the capital's road intersections have sparked debate and criticism. Is giving alms a crime now?

These people - fined between Rp 20,000 (US$2) and Rp 70,000 - might have never thought before in their life that they would get "punishment" for doing something good. Maybe they just want to implement religious teachings that as the fortunate they are expected to help the less fortunate, in any way they can. It has been a kind of tradition, especially during Ramadan, to give small change to beggars and street children.

However, things are different now in Jakarta. The implementation of a 2007 bylaw on public order has turned these charity givers into "criminals". Under the bylaw, charity givers can be fined up to Rp 20 million or be sentenced to three months in prison.
These people were not fined because of giving alms but more because they didn't give alms properly - at least according to the Jakarta Administration.

The city has long been desperate to get rid of "seasonal beggars", who usually flock the city, during Ramadan. The Jakarta Social Welfare Agency recently raided some 53 spots in the capital and had put more than 1,200 beggars into the social rehabilitation center in Kedoya, West Jakarta. This action, unfortunately, is ineffective. The number of seasonal beggars from outside Jakarta keeps on increasing.

Jakarta is not the only major city in Indonesia that suffers from an influx of seasonal beggars during Ramadan. Big cities like Surabaya in East Java and Medan (North Sumatra) experience the same thing.

A special report on Trans TV about two years ago revealed how some people make begging their profession. They use make-up to make fake wounds - convincing enough for passersby who are willing to hand over a Rp 1,000 banknote. The man being interviewed admitted that he earned about Rp 6 million per month by begging at intersections. Not bad for a beggar.

Suara Pembaruan daily reported on Sept. 2, 2009, that 80 percent of 3,500 families in Pragaan Daya village in Madura island, East Java, are "professional" beggars. Some of the parents are even able to send their children to medical school.

If people in their productive age prefer to roam around intersections asking for money - instead of working as drivers, office boys or cleaning service operatives with only about Rp 1.5 million - then no wonder begging is more tempting.

For activists, the city administration's action was deemed closing the doors for the "real" poor to get a helping hand. They said that the fines for charity givers would make people think twice before donating their money to the needy. They also said that some charity givers do not trust formal institutions in channeling their funds. They called on these institutions to be more transparent with their financial reports so that they can gain public trust and donations.

It is time for Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo to disseminate more information to the public on the procedures available to channel their money for the needy. Some people already donate their money through churches, mosques and orphanages. But the government seems to want more people to give their money through charitable donation boards recognized by the state.

Whatever the mechanism is, the information should be made public so that the fate of the 12 charity givers will not happen again to others.