Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Child victims of Pakistan's 'begging mafia'

For many Pakistani Muslims, visiting a shrine and donating money to beggars go hand in hand. But their generosity has encouraged the creation of a "begging mafia" which forces thousands of children into a life of slavery.

An abandoned boy carries his disabled brother on his back in Karachi in 2003 

Shrines dedicated to holy men are dotted across most cities and towns in Pakistan. In the folk Islam of the region, they are regarded as saints, and can attract huge numbers of worshippers, eager to pray for their blessings.

The shrines have always been a magnet for beggars, especially children, as many of the pilgrims believe giving money to the poor will increase the chance of their prayers being heard.

The result? Children are being kidnapped and traded between begging gangs, says Mohammed Ali, founder of the Roshni Helpline charity.

"In 2010, 3,000 children went missing in Karachi alone," says Ali.

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