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Sun 14 Oct 2007 01:09 AM

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Child beggars up 96% during holy month

Street kids deliberately maimed to play on sympathy of Muslims who flock to holy cities during Ramadan.

Child beggars increase by up to 96% on the streets of Mecca and Medina during Ramadan, according to a Saudi study.

Authorities have campaigned to combat begging during this year’s holy month, announcing daily arrests, news agency AFP reported.

Children are often deliberately maimed by traffickers to elicit sympathy from Muslims who flock to Islam’s holiest cities during the holy month, leaving them exposed to sexual exploitation or sickness.

A study by the Imam Mohammad bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh found more than 80,000 child beggars could be found at any one time on the streets in GCC countries, with more than 16,000 across Bahrain, Oman and the UAE. Up to 69% of child beggars in Riyadh are Saudis aged six to eight, the study found.

Economic and social factors including domestic violence, poverty and the break up of family units are all to blame for driving children onto the streets, the study said.

Saudi daily Okaz recently said "more than 24,000 children of 18 nationalities, but particularly Yemenis, are thrown onto the streets of the kingdom, chiefly in Mecca and Medina, during Ramadan” AFP quoted.

The newspaper said while the number of beggars grows by around 55% in most Saudi cities during Ramadan, the figure for Medina is a massive 96%.

According to Saudi Arabia's interior ministry 15,000 beggars were rounded up over the past five months, including around 2,700 Saudis, AFP reported.

‘Professional beggars’ use tricks including showing medicines or documents as proof of sickness to gain pity, or wear traditional long robes and beg for pilgrimage expenses.

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