“This practice (of children begging) is a disease,” said Social Welfare and Labour Minister Mangat Ram Singhal. Talking about the helpline, he said the caller would be expected to provide details about the location of the child beggar and continue on his or her way.
The number 1098 was actually started in 1998 as a child helpline, but from February it will be used to draw attention to the problem of child beggars. It will be manned by NGO workers spread over five zones.
Unlike the police helpline, officials would not appear immediately at the place from where a person calls. “Children who are regular offenders would be identified at permanent locations, then the ‘beggar squad’ would pick them up,” Singhal told IANS.
“We hope that eventually we will give more speedy solutions. This is not a permanent solution,” he added.
“We have an adequate number of officials on our beggar squad who can identify the children. If they are orphans, the children will be taken to our child homes or other government institutions where they can avail themselves of hostel and technical education facilities.”
Rules state that a child cannot be separated from the parent, but the department seems to have found a way out as far as child beggars are concerned.
“I am responsible not only for social welfare but also the labour department now…The parents too would be identified and booked under child labour laws,” said Singhal. Begging is illegal in the capital but is widely prevalent.
The government is also planning an exhaustive awareness drive about the helpline to “allow citizens to be directly involved in the project”. The campaign will be popularised through advertisements and radio jingles soon.