253 Belgian municipalities infringe on European human rights with begging ban

Although begging has not been a criminal offence in Belgium since 1993, 253 Belgian municipalities have banned it. This way, cities and municipalities violate the rights and human dignity of beggars, say the Federal Institute for Human Rights (FIRM) and the Combat Poverty Service on Thursday.

The Federal Institute of Human Rights (FIRM/IFDH) and the Combat Poverty Service analysed the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling that recognised that the right to beg is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

According to the ECtHR, when people in a situation of poverty are hindered from meeting their basic needs through begging, their human dignity is violated. "The Court has recognised that begging constitutes a human right, and therefore a general ban on begging is not permissible under any circumstances," concludes Martien Schotsmans, director of FIRM.

"A general ban on begging is not permissible under any circumstances"

Of the 581 Belgian cities and municipalities surveyed, 305 were found to have begging regulations. "For 253 of them, the analysis shows that at least one provision of the local begging regulations is problematic, such as a ban on begging with animals, on showing mutilations while begging or a ban on begging in specific places," says Combat Poverty Service director Henk Van Hootegem.

Both institutions found that assisting persons in poverty is preferable to punishing them. "In this context, it is the responsibility of governments, at all policy levels, not only to protect the most vulnerable people in our society, but also to implement structural policies aimed at resolving poverty situations in the long term," they conclude.


A homeless person in downtown Brussels. © BELGA PHOTO JORGE DIRKX


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