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Mathura, 2014.11.11 (Brij Khandelwal, TNN): The growing number of child beggars at Mathura and other religious shrines that draw hordes of pilgrims round the year is causing concern among police and the administration. What is worrying them is that many a time these children commit petty crimes like snatching purses or bags, pick-pocketing, and they often fight over division of loot. A few days ago, a child beggar ran away with the purse of a woman from Gujarat at Goverdhan. In another incident in Mathura, a kid lifted the mobile phone of a visitor from Chandigarh while he was having tea at a stall. Within seconds, the thief disappeared in the narrow lanes of the city. Such complaints are multiplying. While Mathura police do not have exact figures of missing children, they admit there has been a noticeable increase in the number of beggars not only in Mathura but also Goverdhan and Vrindavan. Rajendra Kumar Nagar, kotwal of Vrindavan, said, “The problem is there. The smaller kids are either locals or from nearby areas, but the older ones come from distant districts like Etah or Mainpuri. When they are caught for the first time, we call their parents and advise them to control their kids. If caught, they are sent to the reformatory. Now, the marriage season has started. We have to be extra cautious as these child gangs become more active.” A large number of child beggars are from outside the district. “Often they are part of a big gang headed by a goon who pulls the strings,” said activist Dhananjaya Gautam of Vrindavan. “Begging till some time ago was considered a part of the religious paraphernalia. Outside the temples in Vrindavan there were long queues of women beggars, mostly from Bengal, but now that institutionalized practice has taken a back seat, but the spurt in number of child beggars is surely an issue that we all should be seriously concerned about,” said author-activist of Mathura Ashok Bansal. On the parikrama route in Goverdhan, one sees numerous child beggars pestering the pilgrims. “Every day, you hear of a bag disappearing or a mobile and even laptops suddenly going missing. When a kid gets caught, he is let off after a few slaps. This emboldens him to graduate higher into the world of crime. Most of these kids are under the influence of some intoxicant or the other, cough syrup or some cheap chemicals,” adds Manju Sharma, a local. In Mathura, the railway stations provide the hordes of child beggars a comfortable shelter. Senior police officers, however, do not admit that it is such a big problem “In Mathura and all the nearby religious places, food is not a problem. They all get enough to eat from temples and ashrams which regularly hold bhandaras or mass distribution of prasad. But its the monetary support in terms of cash collection that is a big draw and sustains the local begging industry,” says social activist Jagannath Poddar. “The police should do something about this evil. If the children who are forced into this profession do not stop begging, they should all be rounded up and put in the reformatory where they can receive some education and security,” suggests pandit Ram Babu Sharma, a temple priest in Barsana.