poverty, charity, welfare & the religious conscience

I found this a thought-provoking read.  It's a very sad situation with so many heart-breaking factors; at the same time, it poses questions worth struggling through on poverty, religion, charity & welfare. Each time I think through the complexity of poverty and read about a particular policy-based attempt to do something about it, I find myself just so much more disillusioned with policy as a means to shalom.

Senegal's capital Dakar is a lively and colorful city with, until recently, an army of beggars on the streets — both children and adults.

Many of the beggars in the metropolis have disappeared, at least for now, after the government recently began enforcing a 2005 ban on public begging, except near mosques and other places of worship. The crackdown came in August under international pressure, after a Human Rights Watch report estimated that tens of thousands of young boys are forced to beg on the streets.

In September, for the first time, the courts in Senegal applied another 2005 law against forcing minors to beg. A number of religious teachers were found guilty of the practice and were given suspended prison sentences and fined.

The issue is causing something of a social storm in Senegal, a majority Muslim country of 12 million where begging — and giving alms — are commonplace.

via NPR.

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The Senegalese are conflicted about the ban on beggars. Social commentator and blogger Hamadou Tidiane Sy, editor of the website ouestaf.com, says in predominantly Muslim Senegal, people are taught to follow their religion and their conscience and to give to the poor. He says it is part of the culture.

"One, you have this sense of solidarity, this sense of sharing that Muslims are taught to have towards people in need in general," Sy says. "And then you have extreme poverty, because we are in a society where you don't have social security, a good welfare system. So welfare has always been informal. This has always been the social welfare system here."

He adds that when this tradition is transferred to an urban setting — such as the streets of Dakar — "where you don't know who is in need and who is not and where those in need have to go out to beg, it creates the phenomenon we have here," and people lose face and dignity.