Begging (also panhandling) is the practice of imploring others to grant a favor, often a gift of money, with little or no expectation of reciprocation. A person doing such is called a beggar or panhandler. Beggars may be found in public places such as transport routes, urban parks, and markets. Besides money, they may also ask for food, drink, cigarettes or other small items.
Internet begging is the modern practice of asking people to give money to others via the Internet, rather than in person. Internet begging is usually targeted at people who are acquainted with the beggar, but it may be advertised to strangers. Internet begging encompasses requests for help meeting basic needs such as medical care and shelter, as well as requests for people to pay for vacations, school trips, and other things that the beggar wants but cannot comfortably afford.
A beggar is different from a religious mendicant as some mendicants do not ask for money. Their survival is reciprocated by providing society with various forms of religious service, moral education, and preservation of culture.
Beggars have existed in human society since before the dawn of recorded history. Street begging has happened in most societies around the world, though its prevalence and exact form vary.
Ancient Greeks distinguished between the penes (Greek: πένης, "active poor") and the ptochos (Greek: πτωχός, "passive poor"). The penes was somebody with a job, only not enough to make a living, while the ptochos depended on others entirely. The working poor were accorded a higher social status. The New Testament contains several references to Jesus' status as the savior of the ptochos, usually translated as "the poor", considered the most wretched portion of society. In the Rich man and Lazarus parable, Lazarus is called 'ptochos' and presented as living in extreme poverty.
A Caveat or Warning for Common Cursitors, vulgarly called vagabonds, was first published in 1566 by Thomas Harman. From early modern England, another example is Robert Greene in his coney-catching pamphlets, the titles of which included "The Defence of Conny-catching," in which he argued there were worse crimes to be found among "reputable" people. The Beggar's Opera is a ballad opera in three acts written in 1728 by John Gay. The Life and Adventures of Bampfylde Moore Carew was first published in 1745. There are similar writers for many European countries in the early modern period.
According to Jackson J. Spielvogel, "Poverty was a highly visible problem in the eighteenth century, both in cities and in the countryside... Beggars in Bologna were estimated at 25 percent of the population; in Mainz, figures indicate that 30 percent of the people were beggars or prostitutes... In France and Britain by the end of the century, an estimated 10 percent of the people depended on charity or begging for their food."
The British Poor Laws, dating from the Renaissance, placed various restrictions on begging. At various times, begging was restricted to the disabled. This system developed into the workhouse, a state-operated institution where those unable to obtain other employment were forced to work in often grim conditions in exchange for a small amount of food. The welfare state of the 20th century greatly reduced the number of beggars by directly providing for the basic necessities of the poor from state funds.
Begging is an age old social phenomenon in India. In the medieval and earlier times begging was considered to be an acceptable occupation which was embraced within the traditional social structure. This system of begging and alms-giving to mendicants and the poor is still widely practiced in India, with over 400,000 beggars in 2015.
In contemporary India, beggars are often stigmatized as undeserving. People often believe that beggars are not destitute and instead call them professional beggars. There is a wide perception of begging scams. This view is refuted by grassroots research organizations such as Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan, which claim that beggars and other homeless people are overwhelmingly destitute and vulnerable. Their studies indicate that 99 percent men and 97 percent women resort to beggary due to abject poverty, distress migration from rural villages and the unavailability of employment.
After the establishment of the Ming Dynasty many farmers and unemployed laborers in Beijing were forced to beg to survive. Begging was especially difficult during Ming times due to high taxes that limited the disposable income of most individuals. Beijing's harsh winters were a difficult challenge for beggars. To avoid freezing to death, some beggars paid porters one copper coin to sleep in their warehouse for the night. Others turned to burying themselves in manure and eating arsenic to avoid the pain of the cold. Thousands of beggars died of poison and exposure to the elements every year.
Begging was some people's primary occupation. A Qing Dynasty source describes that "professional beggars" were not considered to be destitute, and as such were not allowed to receive government relief, such as food rations, clothing, and shelter. Beggars would often perform or train animals to perform to earn coins from passerby. Although beggars were of low status in Ming, they were considered to have higher social standing over prostitutes, entertainers, runners, and soldiers.
Some individuals capitalized on beggars and became "Beggar Chiefs". Beggar chiefs provided security in the form of food for beggars and in return received a portion of beggars daily earnings as tribute. Beggar chiefs would often lend out their surplus income back to beggars and charge interest, furthering their subjects dependence on them to the point of near slavery. Although beggar chiefs could acquire significant wealth they were still looked upon as low class citizens. The title of beggar chief was often passed through family line and could stick with an individual through occupational changes.
Many religions have prescribed begging as the only acceptable means of support for certain classes of adherents, including Hinduism, Sufism, Buddhism, and typically to provide a way for certain adherents to focus exclusively on spiritual development without the possibility of becoming caught up in worldly affairs.
Religious ideals of ‘Bhiksha’ in Hinduism, ‘Charity’ in Christianity besides others promote alms-giving. This obligation of making gifts to God by alms-giving explains the occurrence of generous donations outside religious sites like temples and mosques to mendicants begging in the name of God.
Tzedakah plays a central role in Judaism. According to the Torah, Jews are obligated to contribute 10% of their income as tithes, which also can include giving to the poor.
In Buddhism, monks and nuns traditionally live by begging for alms, as done by the historical Gautama Buddha himself. This is, among other reasons, so that Laity can gain religious merit by giving food, medicines, and other essential items to the monks. The monks seldom need to plead for food; in villages and towns throughout modern Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and other Buddhist countries, householders can often be found at dawn every morning streaming down the road to the local temple to give food to the monks. In East Asia, monks and nuns were expected to farm or work for returns to feed themselves.
Ming China was founded by former beggar Zhu Yuanzhang. Orphaned in childhood due to famine, Zhu Yuanzhang, turned to the Huangjue temple for help. When the temple ran out of resources to support its occupants he became a mendicant monk traveling China begging for food.
Begging has been restricted or prohibited at various times and for various reasons, typically revolving around a desire to preserve public order or to induce people to work rather than to beg. Various European poor laws prohibited or regulated begging from the Renaissance to modern times, with varying levels of effectiveness and enforcement. Similar laws were adopted by many developing countries.
"Aggressive panhandling" has been specifically prohibited by law in various jurisdictions in the United States and Canada, typically defined as persistent or intimidating begging.
The province of Ontario introduced its Safe Streets Act in 1999 to restrict specific kinds of begging, particularly certain narrowly defined cases of "aggressive" or abusive begging. In 2001 this law was upheld under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The law was further upheld by the Court of Appeal for Ontario in January 2007.
One response to the anti-panhandling laws which were passed was the creation of the Ottawa Panhandlers Union which fights for the political rights of panhandlers. The union is a shop of the Industrial Workers of the World.
Begging in China is illegal if:
- Coercing, decoying or utilizing others to beg;
- Forcing others to beg, repeatedly tangling or using other means of nuisance.
Those cases are violations of the Article 41 of the Public Security Administration Punishment Law of the People's Republic of China. For the first case, offenders would receive a detention between 10 days and 15 days, with an additional fine under RMB 1,000; for the second case, it is punishable by a 5-day detention or warning.
According to Article 262(2) or the Criminal Law of the People's Republic of China, organizing disabled or children under 14 to beg is illegal and will be punished by up to 7 years in prison, and fined.
Under article 407 of the Greek Penal Code, begging was punishable by up to 6 months in jail and up to a 3000 euro fine. However, this law was repelled in October 2018, after protests from street musicians in the city of Thessaloniki.
Hungary has a nationwide ban. This may include stricter related laws in cities such as Budapest, which also prohibits picking things from rubbish bins.
Begging is criminalized in cities such as Mumbai and Delhi as per the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, BPBA (1959). Under this law, officials of the Social Welfare Department assisted by the police, conduct raids to pick up beggars who they then try in special courts called ‘beggar courts’. If convicted, they are sent to certified institutions called ‘beggar homes’ also known as ‘Sewa Kutir’ for a period ranging from one to ten years for detention, training and employment. The government of Delhi, besides criminalizing alms-seeking has also criminalized alms-giving on traffic signals to reduce the ‘nuisance’ of begging and ensure the smooth flow of traffic.
Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan and People's Union of Civil Liberties, PUCL have critiqued this Act and advocated for its repeal. Section 2(1) of the BPBA broadly defines ‘beggars’ as those individuals who directly solicit alms as well as those who have no visible means of subsistence and are found wandering around as beggars. Therefore, during the implementation of this law the homeless are often mistaken as beggars. Beggar homes, which are meant to provide vocational training, have been often found to have abysmal living conditions.
Most cases of begging are illegal. Especially, if it annoys someone, or bothers the traffic, or is for a personal purpose.
Begging in Luxembourg is legal, except when it is indulged in as a group or the beggar is a part of an organised effort. According to Chachipe a Roma rights advocacy NGO 1639 begging cases were reported by Luxembourgian law enforcement authorities. Roma beggars were arrested, handcuffed, taken to police stations and held for hours and had their money confiscated.
Although the Begging (Prohibition) Act was introduced in 1962, this has not been enforced and the begging population in Kathmandu has since grown to over 5,000, according to police estimates. Besides the common begging tricks such as asking for money or asking for milk which will be returned to the shop for money, there is a unique scam in Nepal which involves asking a foreigner to buy a shoe box at an inflated price. This shoe box is claimed to help provide a sustainable livelihood for the beggar but in actual fact, will be returned to the seller for money.
In Portugal, panhandlers normally beg in front of Catholic churches, at traffic lights or on special places in Lisbon or Oporto downtowns. Begging is not illegal in Portugal. Many social and religious institutions support homeless people and panhandlers and the Portuguese Social Security normally gives them a survival monetary subsidy.
US State Department Human Rights reports note a pattern of Roma children registered for "vagrancy and begging".
England & Wales
Begging is illegal under the Vagrancy Act of 1824. However it does not carry a jail sentence and is not enforced in many cities, although since the Act applies in all public places, it is enforced more frequently on public transport. Local authorities may issue public spaces protection orders for particular areas which makes begging subject to a fine.
In parts of San Francisco, California, aggressive panhandling is prohibited.
In May 2010, police in the city of Boston started cracking down on panhandling in the streets in downtown, and were conducting an educational outreach to residents advising them not to give to panhandlers. The Boston police distinguished active solicitation, or aggressive panhandling, versus passive panhandling of which an example is opening doors at a store with a cup in hand but saying nothing.
U. S. Courts have repeatedly ruled that begging is protected by the First Amendment's free speech provisions. On August 14, 2013, the U. S. Court of Appeals struck down a Grand Rapids, Michigan anti-begging law on free speech grounds. An Arcata, California law banning panhandling within twenty feet of stores was struck down on similar grounds in 2012.
Use of funds
A 2002 study of 54 panhandlers in Toronto reported that of a median monthly income of $638 Canadian dollars (CAD) – those interviewed spent a median of $200 on food and $192 on alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs. The Fraser Institute criticized this study, citing problems with potential exclusion of lucrative forms of begging and the unreliability of reports from the panhandlers who were polled in the study.
In North America, panhandling money is widely reported to support substance abuse and other addictions. For example, outreach workers in downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, surveyed that city's panhandling community and determined that approximately three-quarters use some of the donated money to buy tobacco products, while two-thirds buy solvents or alcohol. In Midtown Manhattan, one outreach worker anecdotally commented to the New York Times that substance abuse accounts for 90 percent of panhandling funds. This, too, may not be representative since outreach workers work with those with abuse problems.
Because of concerns that people begging on the street may use the money to support alcohol or drug abuse, some advise those wishing to give to beggars to give gift cards or vouchers for food or services, and not cash. Some shelters also offer business cards with information on the shelter's location and services, which can be given in lieu of cash. This has been criticised since there are typically far fewer shelter beds than people in need.
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