Ban on begging: 253 Belgian municipalities violate beggars' rights

Ban on begging: 253 Belgian municipalities violate beggars' rights
Credit: Belga / Siska Gremmelprez

Begging has not been a criminal offence in Belgium since 1993. Yet, 253 Belgian municipalities have banned it and in doing so, have violated the rights and human dignity of beggars.

The verdict came from the Federal Institute for Human Rights (FIRM/IFDH) and Belgium's National Centre for Poverty Prevention (NCPP) in a joint statement on Thursday. Both bodies analysed the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which recognised that the right to beg is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.

253 local begging violations

When people in a situation of poverty are hindered from meeting their basic needs through begging, their human dignity is violated, declared the ECHR. "The Court has recognised that begging constitutes a human right. Therefore a general ban on begging is not permissible under any circumstances," concluded Martien Schotsmans, Director of FIRM/IFDH.

305 of the 581 cities and municipalities surveyed by FIRM/IFDH and the NCPP were found to have begging regulations. "For 253 of them, the analysis shows that at least one provision of the local begging regulations is problematic, such as a ban on begging with animals, on showing mutilations while begging or a ban on begging in specific places," said Henk Van Hootegem, NCPP Coordinator.

52 of the cities and municipalities surveyed have begging regulations that do not violate human rights.

However, the right to beg is not an absolute right: a beggar may never violate the rights of others by being aggressive or intrusive. The NCPP and FIRM/IFDH pointed out that the nuisance does need to be actually demonstrated for it to be seen as a violation of others' rights.

In their statement, the FIRM/IFDH and the NCPP provide some examples of how cities and municipalities deal with begging. Both institutions conclude that assistance is preferable to the punishment of persons in poverty.

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Finally, the NCPP and FIRM/IFDH point out that the root cause of begging is the situation of extreme poverty in which those concerned find themselves.

"It is the responsibility of governments not only to protect the most vulnerable people in our society but also to implement structural policies aimed at fighting poverty in the long term," the organisations conclude.

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