Uzbekistan’s Senate has approved a law that criminalizes begging in public places across the country.
The December 13 vote by lawmakers in the upper house of the Uzbek parliament, or Oliy Majlis (Supreme Assembly), ratified legislation that was proposed by President Shavkat Mirziyoev in September.
The new criminal law imposes fines for begging that range from the equivalent of about $25 to $75.
Those unable to pay the fine face up to 15 days in jail for their first conviction.
Repeat offenders face punishments of up to 240 hours of community service, up to two years of corrective labor, or up to one year in prison.
The legislation also has provisions aimed at criminal groups that organize begging networks using children, the elderly, or disabled people to beg on the street.
Those convicted of leading or coordinating organized begging face up to 360 hours of compulsory public work or a prison term from one to three years.
Under the new law, begging is defined as “actively asking for money, food, and other material assets” in public places.
It specifies that the begging ban applies to streets, all public transport, or other public places such as airports, train stations, parks, markets and shopping centers, stadiums, and cultural heritage sites.
Beggars appeared in large numbers in Uzbekistan after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but the number has declined since 2008 due to sustained economic growth.
The Borgen Project, a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization that fights extreme poverty around the world, says about 4 million of Uzbekistan’s 31 million residents now live below the poverty level.
That’s down from about 10 million people living below the poverty line in 2001, the group says, noting that about 75 percent of those below the poverty level now live in rural areas.
According to Uzbekistan’s Interior Ministry, more than 5,000 people in the capital, Tashkent, were identified as beggars during 2018 and sent to rehabilitation centers.
More than 4,000 of them were women -- and more than 3,000 of those women were begging with children beside them.
About 100 men with disabilities and 500 elderly people were identified as beggars in Tashkent during 2018.