By Nargis Momand Hasanzai
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
February 23, 2023
The Taliban has banned begging and rounded up thousands of impoverished Afghans seeking alms on the streets of the capital, Kabul, in recent months.
But many of Kabul’s poorest are now going door-to-door around the city of some 5 million people in search of food or cash in order to survive.
The number of Afghans begging in Kabul has swelled since the Taliban seized power in 2021, which worsened a major humanitarian crisis and triggered an economic collapse in the country of around 40 million.
Western donors abruptly cut off assistance to the heavily aid-dependent country and imposed sanctions on the new unrecognized government.
Since then, an estimated 1 million Afghans have lost their jobs. The United Nations estimates that more than 28 million Afghans need humanitarian assistance, while 6 million are on the brink of starvation.
Among those who have resorted to begging is Shakiba. Her husband, a soldier in the former Afghan Army, was killed in action before the Taliban takeover in August 2021.
Meanwhile, an NGO that provided Shakiba a $100 monthly salary and training in tailoring and embroidery closed in December. That came soon after the Taliban banned Afghan women from working for foreign and local NGOs, a move that has deprived thousands of widows of their livelihoods.
“I have no choice but to send my children to people’s houses to beg,” she told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi. “I hope some people have some compassion and give my children something.”
Shakiba added that she and her children do not have enough food, warm clothing, or heating to survive the winter in Kabul, where temperatures can dip to -5 degrees Celsius.
‘They Come To Our Homes’
Begging was common even before the Taliban toppled the Western-backed Afghan government. Burqa-clad women holding infants and disabled men were often seen pleading for alms in public parks, outside mosques, and on the sidewalks.
But residents said the number of people begging for survival in the city has soared in the past 18 months.
“Compared to before, the number of beggars has increased because poverty has risen,” Ehsanullah Khurram, a Kabul resident, told Radio Azadi. “The only difference now is that they used to beg on the streets. But now they come to your homes.”
Riaz Ahmad Mohammad, an adviser to the Taliban’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, told Radio Azadi that he “rejects claims that the number of beggars has increased.”
The Taliban has repeatedly claimed to have eradicated begging in Kabul. On February 14, the militant group announced that they had rounded up more than 28,000 people across Kabul.
The Taliban said it had identified around 17,000 of them as “professional beggars,” while the rest were “needy people.” The militants said the vast majority of people begging on the streets were women and children.
Mohammad said unaccompanied children begging on the streets have been placed in orphanages. He also said that some of the neediest Afghans have been given a $25 monthly stipend.
But Kabul residents are not convinced by the Taliban’s strategy for curbing begging.
Ahmad, who requested that his real name be withheld for fear of retribution, said up to a dozen women and children appear daily at his doorstep pleading for alms.
“The Taliban has gathered beggars from the streets, but all of them now visit our homes,” he said.
Written by Abubakar Siddique based on reporting by RFE/RL Radio Azadi correspondent Nargis Momand Hasanzai
Copyright (c) 2023. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.
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