Authorities’ hands are tied on street beggars
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Women begging with babies on their backs or sitting on pavements with toddlers at busy intersections is a common sight in many parts of Johannesburg and other South African cities.
While this is becoming second nature, the sight of babies barely out of their nappies being exposed to the scorching sun and the risk of being hit by passing traffic is painful to witness.
Many people often ask what government is doing about the people who use children to solicit sympathy and attention from motorists. Others even accuse authorities of turning a blind eye to this practice.
On Wednesday afternoon, Elizabeth Moyo was seated on the pavement at a busy intersection in near the Trade Route Mall. I gave her some cash and asked how long she’d been sitting near the traffic light.
“I’ve been here since 8am. I choose to sit here because this is a busy intersection. It is near the entrance and people give whatever money they have. Some give coins, others give notes. It helps me buy bread and get by for the day for my one-year-old daughter and four-year-old son,” Moyo said.
Asked if she would take a job offer to become a domestic worker, he answer was “no”.
“I don’t trust people. Also, I don’t have anywhere to take my child. Some people don’t like it when you come with your child to work. So I come here and hope to get whatever little money I can.”
Not far from Moyo was another woman begging with a little boy. I asked if her child had eaten anything, to which she responded his last snack was a yoghurt an hour earlier.
I offered the boy a banana and gave the mother some coins. She had been there since 9am, she said.
“The sun is very hot for us. All I want is some cash so that I can buy some food for me and my child.”
The woman, who did not want to be named, said she lives in an informal settlement in Lenasia and walks every day to a pavement not too far from the mall hoping that motorists will be generous.
“There are people who give good money, something like R50, R100 and some give R10 notes and coins. Whatever I get, I appreciate it,” she said.
Asked when her good days are, she said it is usually at the end of the month when people get paid.
“I like it most when it’s month-end. After the 25th, I know I’ll get something decent because people tend to share generously,” she said.
While this is a common sight, one can’t help but wonder whether the state is doing enough to alleviate the plight of the destitute.
Officials, on the other hand, are confronted with the issue of the law pertaining to child abuse, and using children to beg on the streets.
Some people go on to ask: “Why are these women allowed to abuse children by subjecting them to the scorching sun in summer and cold weather in winter?” No official response has been forthcoming.
Nobody wants to take responsibility. Often, these women and children have no access to food and water and are simply at the mercy of passing motorists to give them something to eat.
According to University of KwaZulu-Natal senior lecturer Dr Brigitte Clark, in terms of the Constitution, all children of schoolgoing age need to be in class, and all poor children have a right to nutrition and shelter, and shouldn't be begging on street corners to survive.
“However, children who beg may be protected from criminal penalties by the National Children’s Act. The Children’s Act recognises that there are vulnerable children living on the streets who beg.
“Section 150(1)(c) of the Children’s Act provides that any child who lives or works on the streets or begs for a living is a child ’in need of care and protection’ and must be referred to a designated social worker for investigation, removed from that environment and placed into temporary safe care.
“However, a state social worker cannot simply remove a child from this environment without following the procedure set out in sections 151 and 152 of the Children's Act,” she said.
Briefly, sections 151 and 152 of the Children's Act distinguish between the removal of a child to temporary safe care with and without a court order.
Generally, a child may only be removed and placed into temporary safe care with an order of a court which will require an application being made to the court.
However, if the child needs immediate emergency protection and if there is a risk in that the delay in obtaining an order will jeopardise the safety and well-being of the child, then the child may be removed (by the designated social worker or a member of the SAPS) without a court order.
According to Social Development spokesperson, Lumka Oliphant, the department was given a court order not to remove these women and their children.
“You cannot just approach a woman seated with a child and remove them just like that. The court urged us to be empathetic towards the situation because they believe a child is much safer with its mother than with anyone else.
“The issue here is to look at how we empower women better that we don’t have a situation where you have mothers seated on intersections with their children. That is the bigger issue,” she said.
Johannesburg Child Welfare, on the other hand, does not have the authority to intervene directly.
“We really do not have any authority to remove children from parents begging on the street. We need to wait until the police take the children into custody and then they bring them to us for safe home placement,” said Maria Grigoropoulos from Johannesburg Child Welfare.
City of Johannesburg spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane did not respond to The Sunday Independent’s enquiry on whether this practice violates the City’s by-laws.