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Banning not the way to eliminate begging
By Xiao Ming (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-04-14 16:34

Beijing is not going to ban begging and busking at subway stations and on the trains, the municipal government's Legal Affairs Office announced at a press conference on Monday.

This will douse the flames of debate ignited by the initial management proposal to forbid begging or busking at the entrances of subway stations, inside the stations and on the trains.

The decision should definitely be applauded, as it shows respect for citizens' individual rights.

A draft ruling entitled Management Measures for Safety Operation of Rail Transport was posted on the website www.beijing.gov.cn for public comment last December. It said that begging, performing, smoking and lying down were all to be forbidden at subway stations in Beijing.

The ban attracted much public attention and ignited intense discussion. A total of 68 per cent of the people who posted their opinions at the website said they thought the rule needed further deliberation. Various media also expressed concerns over the draft bill's infringement of citizens' rights.

The Legal Affairs Office, which is responsible for drafting local governmental regulations as well as local legislative items, finally deleted the clause from the draft legislation.

Yet, there are at least seven provinces and municipalities, including Guangzhou, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Ningbo, that have banned begging in such areas.

Indeed, it is improper to forbid begging in public areas, and, anyway, it would not solve the problem of begging.

There are many reasons for the mounting numbers of beggars and vagrants in cities today.

Some of these people are job-seekers from rural areas who have failed to find jobs in the city and are left in dire circumstances. There also are some who make begging a profession and are in fact collecting money fraudulently.

No matter what the reason, begging on the streets is a demeaning way of life and beggars are forced to sacrifice their dignity in order to survive. Given another choice, probably few of them would choose to be beggars.

Whatever might drive people to begging, beggars are citizens who deserve all the rights and freedom our Constitution promises.

As the Legal Affairs Office has pointed out, the country has no law banning begging in public places.

Quite a few cities have issued such bans in the name of public safety or simply for "image" considerations.

Only when beggars' behaviour is a threat to public security and infringes on other people's lawful rights should they be stopped. Although many of us may have had the experience of being pestered by an aggressive beggar, begging does not in itself constitute a threat to public order.

Since there is no violation of law, there is no legal ground for local authorities to ban it.

Looking deeper for the reasons behind begging, we will find that the inadequate social security system is probably the prime cause. Many poverty-stricken people living on the bottom rungs of the social ladder do not get enough help from society. Natural disasters, disease and unemployment can leave people in helpless situations. Begging then becomes their only means of making a living.

Therefore, a sound social security network covering every inch of our land and providing every citizen with protection is the ultimate resolution.

Instead of banning, the government should persuade those beggars with working abilities to make a living through lawful work, and help those who, for various reasons are unable to work, to live with dignity.

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