Authorities in Burundi on Thursday said a police operation rounding up beggars in the main city of Bujumbura would not stop until they had been “totally eradicated” from the streets.
Nearly 300 beggars and street children were arrested between Wednesday and Thursday, according to the National Federation of Associations for Children in Burundi (FENADEB), an umbrella group representing 70 civil society organisations.
“We will not stop our operation until begging and the phenomenon of street children is totally eradicated in Burundi,” said Felix Ngendabanyikwa, permanent secretary at the Ministry of National Solidarity.
Vagrancy carries a two month prison term in Burundi, while coercing minors into begging can carry a 15 year sentence.
Adults detained in the sweeps would face the law, Ngendabanyikwa said. Minors would be transferred to care centres and sent back home.
In late June, the ministry gave an estimated 7,000 street children and thousands of beggars two weeks to return home or risk arrest and punishment.
The government conducted a similar operation in 2018, said Ferdinand Ntamahungiro, the coordinator of the FENADEB, the child rights association.
But some of those returned to their families had made their way back onto the streets of Bujumbura, he said.
Ntamahungiro urged authorities to instead tackle “the causes that push them to become street children, such as poverty and parental violence” in a country ranked the poorest in the world by the World Bank.