Toothless law allows beggars to roam freely in KL

17 Feb 2022 08:34am
Beggars seen waiting for their turn to be questioned by the Bukit Aman Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (Atipsom) Division of the Criminal Investigation Department (JSJ) in a special operation codenamed ‘Op Pintas Bersepadu’ (Pengemis) with the Social Welfare Department (JKM) at a location that is kept secret recently. - BERNAMA
Beggars seen waiting for their turn to be questioned by the Bukit Aman Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (Atipsom) Division of the Criminal Investigation Department (JSJ) in a special operation codenamed ‘Op Pintas Bersepadu’ (Pengemis) with the Social Welfare Department (JKM) at a location that is kept secret recently. - BERNAMA

KUALA LUMPUR - Less than 24 hours after the authorities round up beggars in this city, record their particulars and release them, the vagrants are at it again - in a different location.

The law is toothless when it comes to action against beggars. Neither the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act (Atipsom) 2007 nor the Destitute Persons Act 1977 considers begging a crime.

An offence is committed only when the act of begging involves children and there are elements of cheating or exploitation.

These laws are unlike the Vagrancy Act 1824 of the United Kingdom which makes it an offence to sleep rough or beg.

Anyone found sleeping in a public place or trying to beg for money in England and Wales can be arrested.

In Malaysia, the question arises as to when this social issue can be eradicated as it is unsightly to see vagrants begging for alms on the streets of Kuala Lumpur or any other city for that matter.


Kuala Lumpur, which was placed 32nd among 60 other cities in the Safe Cities Index 2021 by The Economist Intelligence Unit, also appears to be a "safe haven” for beggars, with many of them "thriving” and even creating colonies in densely populated areas including in Ampang, Chow Kit, Brickfields, Subang and Shah Alam.

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In Ampang, most of the vagrants belong to the Rohingya community from Myanmar who seek public sympathy by getting their children to beg for money. In fact, some of the adults are known to "rent” their compatriots’ children for this purpose.

In Brickfields, meanwhile, Indonesian vagrants with physical disabilities, and with their leaders in tow, under the guise of selling packets of tissue are a common sight.

The activities of these groups of beggars were observed by the Bernama team that accompanied the authorities, led by Bukit Aman’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Division (D3), on their recent operation, dubbed ‘Op Pintas Bersepadu’ (Pengemis), in the Klang Valley from Feb 9 to 12.

The operation was aimed at eradicating begging activities in the Klang Valley.

The operation exposed, among other things, the modus operandi of the foreign and local beggars who used different tactics to get what they want.

The Rohingyas, for instance, are more aggressive in their approach while the local beggars prefer the old school way, which is sitting down passively on the five-foot way or elsewhere and waiting patiently for passers-by to show kindness.

During the four-day operation, Bernama also recorded the fraudulent behaviour of some of the vagrants who are purportedly living in poverty.

Among them were some who pretended to be sick and penniless but travelled to their favourite begging spot on a motorcycle or by using e-hailing services.

There were also some who rented rooms in upmarket areas as well as owned the iPhone 13 smartphone that costs more than RM4,000.

Not only that, there were also seasoned beggars who behaved like Big Brother and extorted protection money from the newbies!

They may not be leading a life of luxury but, as Bernama discovered, most people involved in begging are able to live comfortably on their daily "takings”.

In fact, they treat begging as a vocation and are in it of their own volition as opposed to allegations that they are being forced onto the streets by syndicates.


During the Pengemis operation, the Bernama team also noted the challenges faced by the authorities that were involved in collecting and recording personal details of the beggars they had rounded up before releasing them.

"No need to detain them again (the beggars who return to begging) because it will end up in them being released,” sighed a policeman who participated in the operation.

The law enforcement officer’s frustration is understandable because not much action can be taken against the alms seekers, particularly those who have homes and families - the majority of beggars in the Klang Valley belong to this category - because begging is not considered a crime under any law in this country.

Under the Destitute Persons Act 1977, Malaysian adult beggars aged below 60 who have no family or home are placed in Desa Bina Diri, a special home for the destitute run by the Social Welfare Department (JKM).

Those aged above 60 are also placed in a special home, Rumah Seri Kenangan, run by JKM.

Child beggars, regardless of their nationality, rescued by the authorities are referred to a designated shelter if they don’t have proper guardians, as provided for under the Child Act 2001.

The rest are sent back home with a stern warning to their guardians to keep them away from begging.

Foreign beggars, meanwhile, are handled by the Immigration Department while refugees caught begging are referred to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).


The Destitute Persons Act 1977, which provides for the care and rehabilitation of destitute persons, has never been amended since it was enforced 45 years ago.

In 2014, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development headed by the then minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim had proposed to amend the Act to introduce the element of enforcement because the existing Act only provided for the care and rehabilitation of the group of people concerned.

The ministry proposed, among others, to impose a jail term, community service and compounds on individuals who resort to begging as a "career” as well as exploit others to seek alms.

Now almost eight years later, the proposals still remain on paper. Sometime in 2020, current minister Datuk Seri Rina Harun was quoted as saying that the Destitute Persons Act 1977 would be reviewed to protect the welfare of the homeless and destitute.

A police source who is obviously tired of repeatedly rounding up beggars and then releasing them told Bernama:

"This Act has been enforced since 1977 and has never been amended. By right, laws must keep up with the passage of time, and the people on top must play their part."


It has now become more challenging than ever for the authorities to deal with the issue of beggars mainly due to the rise in the number of foreigners - especially Rohingya refugees holding UNHCR cards - who beg to support themselves and their families.

Unlike the locals, the foreigners are bolder and more aggressive and would even harass the public to give them alms. Recently, there was a video clip showing some children, believed to be Rohingyas, harassing the driver of a vehicle in Cheras, which provoked the ire of the public.

Commenting on the issue, lawyer Muhammad Akram Abdul Aziz said legal action can only be taken against the Rohingya UNHCR cardholders if they are involved in criminal activities.

"However, it’s not easy for the authorities to take action (against the refugees) because there are groups who would question their arrest. Political influence may also be involved in attempts to protect the UNHCR cardholders.

"Such a situation, to a certain extent, gives rise to the perception, not only among Malaysians but also UNHCR cardholders, that they are immune to the law,” he said.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin had previously warned Rohingya refugees not to get too big-headed and violate Malaysia’s laws.

The reality is that the loopholes in the existing laws and other challenges are preventing the enforcement agencies concerned from taking action against beggars.

First and foremost, alms seeking is not considered a crime under any law in this country and this is why begging activities involving both locals and foreigners continue to exist in society.

Muhammad Akram said another factor for the growing number of beggars on the streets is the generosity of the people who willingly give alms.

"It’s their generosity that has caused some individuals to see begging as a ‘profitable venture’ and all they have to be is thick-skinned,” he added.

As for complaints that many foreigners are taking advantage of Malaysians’ kindness and generosity, JKM statistics show that most of the vagrants rescued by the authorities comprised locals.

In 2020, the number of Malaysian beggars rescued totalled 1,786 while foreign beggars taken off the streets numbered only 322. - BERNAMA