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Giving money to beggars may generally be considered an act of kindness — but in the Italian town of Bordighera, it is now supposed to be an offense punishable with a fine.
The town’s mayor, Giacomo Pallanca, made the decision in response to complaints about homeless men and women begging for money, according to Italian newspaper Il Secolo XIX and the news site the Local. Pallanca defended the policy in an interview, arguing that punishing beggars was impossible because they “can’t or will never be able to pay.”
“Since real organizations are often behind this phenomenon, we must eradicate it by discouraging those who offer money,” Pallanca was quoted as saying.
Italy, just like most European countries, has an extensive welfare system that allows homeless citizens to apply for social housing or unemployment benefits. That is why some countries, such as the United Kingdom, have made it illegal to beg for money. Italy has no such restriction, which has raised questions over the Bordighera rule’s compliance with national law.
Supporters of anti-begging initiatives point out that begging is a profitable source of income for organized crime groups. Child beggars suffer most, as they are “denied an education, they’ll have nutrition issues, health issues,” Christine Beddoe, the U.K. director of an initiative called End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking, told the BBC in 2011. “They’ll also grow up believing that this is the only way, or the normal way, of earning a living,” she said.
Similar arguments have been made in Italy in support of the new rule in Bordighera. Speaking to the Local, Steve Barnes, who heads a charity for homeless Italians, said, “A move like this also eliminates the risk of supporting organized street crime.”