All panhandlers and vagrants in the Iranian capital have no choice but to be part of a vast criminal enterprise known as the “Greater Tehran Beggars Mob” (GTT in Persian), according to Majid Abhari, who leads the campaign “I dream of a city without beggars.”
“The GTT hires children to be used as props to generate sympathy and persuade the public to give money to its fleet of beggars,” Mr. Abhari said. “It also uses makeup and crutches to make the beggars appear blind or disabled. Each morning vans and minibuses drop off the beggars at various locations in and around the city, and collect them at night.”
“The GTT reportedly operates like a corporation with various departments (i.e. neighborhood gangs) and a board of directors (i.e. seven lead beggars),” Abhari explained. “Supervisors and guards ensure that each group of beggars remains in its assigned neighborhood and doesn’t infringe on others’ territories. Many low-income families rent their children out to the GTT. These children and their families are mostly drug addicts.”
Beggars pay the GTT $2,200 on average to rent a prime spot in the city for five months. More than 40 percent of the panhandlers and vagrants in Tehran have migrated from other regions. Many families raise their children to be professional beggars. They will not even marry their daughter to a young man who is not a career beggar. There are no independent beggars in the city. Those working the streets of Tehran must be part of a beggars’ mafia.
Abhari noted: “More than 70 percent of the beggars in the Tehran metropolitan area are part of a powerful gang; otherwise they wouldn’t be able to work in affluent or densely populated areas. Depending on the location, a beggar could earn between $700 and $1,500 a day working in Tehran. There are currently more than 5,000 beggars in Greater Tehran.”
“There are three groups of underage beggars. The first group consists of underage children who are forced to work. Children in the second group peddle goods in the street or wash windshields. The third group is made up of children who are trained pickpockets and thieves,” Abhari said. “More than 60 percent of the children begging in Tehran have Afghan parents. The police can round up all the beggars in Tehran in 48 hours, but they have no place to house them.”
Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi