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16 July 2012

Subjecting the young to abuse

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By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

One aspect of the summer holidays is that it brings a lot of visitors to Jeddah. They come from various parts of the Kingdom with their families to spend some of their holidays. But residents and tourists alike also notice another set of visitors who descend on the city at this time of the year — the alms-seekers or beggars.

Among the major cities, Jeddah seems to garner the lion’s share of these beggars. A motorist driving up to any stoplight today will more often than not be met by a beggar seeking alms. In fact many intersections in the city have now been commandeered by armies of such transients seeking a free handout. 

In the heat of the afternoon sun, it is not unusual to see an Asian lady carrying an infant in her arms as she treads warily through busy traffic, knocking on vehicle windows for her daily pittance; or an African child, barely beyond his toddler years hanging on to a car window and pleading for your generosity. It could also be a little Afghani girl barely over three feet tall who taps on your car window insisting you purchase some chewing gum.

This has become a growing seasonal occurrence in the city, and by all accounts does not seem to be slowing down. Adults subjecting themselves to the possibility of injury while they seek alms is one thing. But to subject these children to such harm in errant traffic is a criminal violation of their rights. 

Seated in the comfort of a car, it is possible that a driver might not notice these small children because of their size and might possibly run over them. The safety and well being of these children is compromised and they are cruelly exposed to the forces of a merciless sun and high summer temperatures. So, why are the authorities allowing this kind of child abuse?
While we may be good Samaritans, the constant pestering and tugging at our giving nature has hardened many a soul. And although I sometimes privately rebuke myself for not giving in to their pleas, we have to ask ourselves, where do we stop? They are everywhere now. Weaving between cars at traffic signals, accosting patrons outside supermarkets and restaurants, and even camping out at the front gates of many homes. They have become a force to be reckoned with.

There have been many stories published of very wealthy beggars with trunks full of money, and that has certainly not gone unnoticed among many of us. And it should be duly noted that this practice is not restricted to Asians and Africans. Some Saudi nationals now resort to new and unique ways to persuade a potential victim to give them some funds with a sob story of needing medication or a tank of gas to get back to their village. Or else they go about pleading for alms armed with a piece of hospital stationary on which is scrawled some unintelligible writing. 

While many of us genuinely try to help those in need to the extent that we can, how can we sort the real needy from the fakes? And if I can notice these beggars daily, then certainly so can the relevant authorities. They should all be rounded up, for their own safety and security. The real needy ones can then be provided the proper care and comfort. And many city residents would be more than willing to contribute their share towards such a move.
But in the meantime, let us stop the abuse of the young ones among them who have no voice of their own to defend themselves. The Kingdom has signed enough international agreements and charters concerning human rights. Let us not allow these innocent little children to suffer any longer, misused and mistreated in the heat of an unrelenting summer. The children should be given a chance to enjoy a proper childhood, and not be used as pawns or bait. The authorities must act without delay in ensuring that their rights are maintained.

[The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com.]

(Courtesy: Saudi Gazette)

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