Norway putting final touches to law banning begging

Copenhagen, Jan 29 (IANS/EFE) The Norwegian government is putting the final touches to a legislative reform aimed at banning begging in the country — an activity that would henceforth be punished with fines and even prison time.

The reform could take effect in a few months and has received criticism from various parties and organisations.
The opposition Centre Party promised a few days ago its support for the proposal, thus securing the backing by most of the Norwegian parliament for the government controlled by the conservative and ultra-nationalist Progress Party.
Proponents of the reform defend it because, in their view, begging has become more aggressive in recent years, leading to an increase in criminal activities such as human trafficking.
Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg said months ago, when the debate around a national begging ban started to enter the political agenda, that it was important to consider the situation’s context.
Solberg pointed out that the main cause for this law was the alleged link between begging and organised crime.
He claimed it had nothing to do with the embarrassment caused by beggars.
Under pressure from the right, the previous government had already passed a law in 2013 stipulating that municipalities may set their own conditions for people who ask for money in public places, with police keeping records of those individuals engaged in begging.
After their electoral victory months later, the conservative and xenophobic right intensified efforts to restore the country’s previous national ban on begging, which had been abolished in 2005.
The government has ensured the centrists’ support in exchange for more investment in social measures, such as the implementation of an extraordinary bill strengthening the rights of the Romani community, to which many of the beggars belong.
The ban’s stated aim is to criminalise organised begging, although officials have admitted the difficulty in defining that term.
Therefore, the government will apply a general ban to all sorts of begging, which will be punished with fines or prison terms lasting several months.
The initiative has received mixed response. Anti-discrimination activists, such as Sunniva Orstavik, expressed the fear that the bill could boost discrimination against Romani people.
The National Human Rights Commission has also warned against the law’s possible discriminatory effects and violations of freedom of speech, while legal groups criticised the short time — only three weeks — allowed for the bill’s submission to the final vote.
The reform could have consequences affecting the stability of the Norwegian government, which enjoys a parliamentary majority with the support of two parties – the Liberal Party and the Christian Democratic Party – both of which oppose the proposed law.