KARACHI - Beggar girls are found almost at every intersection and market place in the City, but what is not usual this time is the apathy and non-notice of the presence of young and adolescent girls, and some of these beggar girls make themselves available as prostitutes.
They are part of a larger crowd of beggars belonging to every age and gender. Of late, their numbers have been on the rise, and they do not look conspicuous in the larger crowd.
The Centre of Excellence for Women Studies, University of Karachi, has conducted interviews with beggar girls at the 17 locations of the metropolis, where they are visible in large numbers including Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Clifton, Landhi, Malir, Saddar, Liaquatabad, Gulistan-e-Johar, FB Area, Sharah-e-Faisal, Mehmoodabad, Jail Chowrangi, Bahadurabad, Tower, Garden, and Cantt Station. The statistics told that 78 per cent of the beggar girls were 12 to 15 years of age, and the next group was 9 to 11 years old while only 9 per cent said they were around 6 to 8 years old.
The largest number of beggar girls, 52 per cent identified cities and districts of Sindh as their places of origin, and the largest group of 21 per cent claimed locations in Punjab from where their families migrated to Karachi. Bangladeshi girls were 9 per cent and 7 per cent from NWFP.
About 52per cent beggar girls said they were Muslims, and those who claimed to be Hindu were 45 per cent while 3 per cent said they were Christians.
About 34 per cent beggar girls said they had been migrated to Karachi and residing here for the last 6 years.
The mother tongue of the largest group of the beggar girls interviewed was Sindhi 51 per cent, while Urdu 2 per cent, Bengali 10 per cent, Seraiki 12 per cent, Pashto 8 per cent, Punjabi 8 per cent, and Balochi 8 per cent.
Majority of the 84 per cent of beggar girls belonged to nuclear families and the other 16 per cent belonged to joint families. When asked how they started begging as a mean of livelihood, 57 per cent said it were their parents and 10 per cent said that their grandfather started it.
The 17 per cent of the beggar girls said they had sexual experience while 15 per cent of admitted it was by their consent, 2 per cent said they went for it on the pretext of getting work. Another 3 per cent disclosed that they were raped, two of them were raped by their relatives and one said her father sends her forcefully to customers.
The 67 per cent of them said people offered money for sex, and the other 33 per cent said they did not.
The fees the beggar girls received from selling their bodies ranged between Rs100 to 2,000. It was very significant that 73 per cent said that their mothers took their daily income, while 22 per cent said their fathers and 3 per cent said their brothers took their money.
It is interesting that 53 per cent of the beggar girls said they believed that beggary was a good profession. One said it was a sin, and the other 45 per cent said that begging was bad.
The beggar girls were asked if they would like to learn some skills to make an honest living, 55 per cent of them said yes. The other 45 per cent wanted to remain as beggars. Of the 55 per cent who said they would like to learn some skills to make a living, 42 per cent showed interest in sewing and embroidery, 7 per cent in making bangles, 5 per cent in making things with clay, and 1 per cent said to learn dancing.
The beggar girls were asked if they would like their children to beg, only 25 per cent of them said yes. The other 75 per cent said no. When further asked why not? 33per cent replied because begging was bad, 40 per cent said that they did not want their children to beg because people did not like it.
There is little doubt in any bodys mind that Pakistani society and polity does not have the will and the capability to handle this problem. Permissive societies such as those of the Philippine, Thailand, and India are reaping the bitter harvest of social disintegration, AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases, drug abuse, sexual abuse of children, child pornography, trafficking in women and related crimes so much in demand by Western tourists.
Is Karachi going to join ranks with Manila, Bangkok, Kolkata, and Mumbai?