The "Beggars Bill" would only make human trafficking more difficult to tackle and increase the number of people who prefer begging to light work and a good income, according to activists and critics of the bill, which is now being scrutinised by the House in the second reading.
Mirror Foundation official Ekkalak Lumchomkhae said his charity organisation was very concerned that the bill would be exploited by human traffickers, already benefiting handsomely from running beggars' rackets widely in Bangkok and large provinces.
He said authorities should adopt preventive measures against financial and social problems rather than attempt to regulate beggars like it was doing now through the bill, which was proposed by the Social Development and Human Security Ministry.
"It is like the authorities are trying to make begging a legitimate and registered occupation," he added.
Under the bill, those with the following "qualifications" could register themselves with local administrative bodies: disabled persons who cannot make a living through general occupations, or senior citizens without caregivers, or people who cannot work for a living due to their physical or mental problems, and homeless people who earn too little to live on their own.
Once registered, such people could choose whether they would beg, or receive assistance from authorities, such as skill training or free compulsory education.
The foundation is now campaigning against several criminal measures used by beggars or organisers of beggars' rackets, especially the use of babies or young children by beggars to draw sympathy from people, and the use of children as beggars. It is also focusing on measures to rid human trafficking in the beggars' industry or minimise the crimes against them.
Mirror Foundation will hold a public hearing jointly with the ministry on October 29 to look into the bill and hear comments from charity foundations opposed to the bill.
Assoc Prof Kittiphat Nonthapattamadul, of Thammasat University, said problems regarding beggars and crimes could be effectively handled better through the 2008 AntiHuman Trafficking Act and other existing laws including the 2007 Life Developments for Disabled People Act and the 2008 Education for Disabled People Act, without the beggars law being needed.
The lecturer on social issues said he believed once the law was in effect, the number of beggars would soar as more and more poor people would be recruited to beg. "People who design and push for the bill focus mainly on legal technicalities to handle the problems, but they lack true understanding about the issue, which is sensitive and requires time consuming measures to deal with," he added.
Narong Patibatsorrakij, chairman of the Disabled Thais' Foundation, said he did not feel "honoured" by the bill, which was meant to help disabled people but provided ambiguous definition between them and beggars. He said the bill also failed to provide a basic salary for disabled people, like many existing laws did.
Wiwat Phutthanu, a local administrative body employee based in Tambon Krapho of Surin's Tha Toom district where the highest number of beggars reported, said the bill would not solve problems regarding local attitudes to begging. He said the bill was not practical and would only encourage more people to beg and send the number of beggars soaring.
Suthep Chokebunthiyanont, a ministry official, said the bill was not meant to encourage more people to beg, but to regulate them and prevent crimes against them by exploiters.
There are no exact figures of beggars in Thailand, or whether they are Thais or immigrants, but the latest official figure in 1999 said there were 6,903 in Bangkok. An immigration record at Aranyaprathet border checkpoint said around 5,000 Cambodians, including 500 children, have been repatriated after police arrests. Some enter Thailand illegally soley to beg, or are smuggled into Thailand by traffickers who have them beg or sell them to owners of beggars' rackets.