Passers-by placing notes in a beggar’s hand may be a familiar sight , but Jakarta bylaw No. 8/2007 aims stamp it out. (Photo: Afriadi Hikmal, JG)
How a Gift To a Beggar Can Get You Jailed in Jakarta

Thinking about digging into your pocket while crossing a busway bridge or idling at a stoplight and handing a few spare coins to someone less fortunate than you during the holy month of Ramadan? Think again.

The Jakarta municipal administration warned on Monday that it would be enforcing a 2007 city bylaw carrying penalties as high as a Rp 20 million ($2,000) fine or 60 days in jail for anyone caught giving cash to street beggars.

“We’ve been promoting the regulation for two years: giving money to beggars is against the law,” Budiarjo, head of the Jakarta Social Agency, told Jakarta Globe. He said 12 Jakartans have already been arrested for giving to panhandlers, four in Central Jakarta and eight in East Jakarta.

The arrests were made by a joint team of the city’s various offices, he said. “They will face legal proceedings and most likely be fined, but if they can’t pay the fine, they could go to jail.”

He said all district and subdistrict heads had been instructed to educate the public about the bylaw, which also targets the beggars and criminal syndicates that control many of them.

Budiarjo, who could not provide exact figures, said authorities estimated that beggars arriving in Jakarta from the regions had risen by about 10 percent, but he reckoned the raids would help see the number decline in Ramadan’s second week.

In the ten days since Ramadan began, the Jakarta Social Agency has netted more than 850 beggars, including 83 infants, in raids across the city’s five districts. Most came from northern coastal areas such as Brebes and Pekalongan in Central Java and that the vast majority were run by panhandling syndicates. “During questioning, most confessed to being forced by syndicates to beg,” Budiarjo said.

The syndicates’ power was so strong that it was difficult to refuse orders to beg, he added. He said investigations into the syndicates were ongoing.

“There are six people we suspect of coordinating the beggars, but we still need to monitor them and investigate further,” he said.

Budiarjo said the beggars would be registered, taken to a shelter and given training to make it unnecessary for them to beg anymore. “We told them as long as they are willing to testify against the syndicate, they would be in a good hands,” he said.

Amidhan, head of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), said the bylaw should be applied selectively. “If [people] give money to those who are really in need because they are disabled, they should not be arrested,” he said. “But if they give to those who aren’t really needy, they should be charged.”

Many beggars had other options, he said. “They use babies as tools to make money. That can’t be tolerated. This is Ramadan, a month where we should do more goodness in the world, however as a good citizen, obeying a bylaw is still necessary,” he said.