Beggars flocking a Buddhist temple in China have been segregated by authorities and kept in cage-like enclosures, drawing criticism from social activists, but official say that the move was aimed at protecting them from being trampled by the milling crowds of devotees.
Human rights campaigners expressed outrage after beggars in the Nanchang region were ordered to stay in cages during a religious festival at the temple.
“They were being segregated behind enclosures that resemble cages to ensure their safety and stop them from annoying visitors,” state-run Beijing News reported.
Chinese Internet users criticised the measure as an insult and inhumane for confining people like livestock.
But the local government says the fences were to protect the beggars from visitors to the city.
“We are keeping them behind bars for fear they will be trampled by the large crowds as they lay on the ground. Many professional beggars, old and disabled, come to the event every year,” an official surnamed Chen from the county government told the newspaper.
The measure could also prevent visitors from being harassed or swindled, he said.
The official’s response came after photos showing about 100 beggars kneeling with bowls from the iron bars were posted online.
Chen explained that authorities were only aiming to protect their safety after failing to persuade them to leave.
“The beggars can come out to use bathrooms but we only allow them to beg in designated areas, which is behind these bars,” he said.
The temple has also set up a temporary relief shelter for the beggars, where they are provided with food and water, said a staff member from the temple.
“I believe segregating these beggars is out of good intention. But it’s awkward, and at first sight can easily spark controversy,” Zhou Zheng, director of the Shanghai Homeless Shelter, said.
Zhou said special care is needed when trying to persuade them to leave.
“However, when begging becomes forceful, urban management officers and police can intervene to prevent people from being harassed,” Zhou told the Global Times, adding that normally beggars are taken to a shelter before being sent back to their hometowns.
Begging is largely discouraged in China with local government subsidising their travel to their native places if they are caught.
The number of beggars is rising in places like Beijing compared to past with people looking to make extra money by seeking alms to meet the high cost of living.