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SUVA, Fiji Islands (December 28, 2001 - Daily Post/PINA Nius Online)---Fiji authorities are planning a New Year crackdown on the growing number of beggars and prostitutes working Suva’s streets.

Minister for Women and Social Welfare Asenaca Caucau said her ministry and the police have met and have decided to make every effort to stop capital area begging and prostitution.

"Government has even decided to build homes for genuine beggars," she said.

She said prostitutes could be helped through such projects as the government's Micro Finance Program for Small Businesses.

She said it would be difficult to eradicate prostitution, but soliciting in the streets would be reduced, she said.

She said a report from non-governmental organizations shows that prostitution has increased.

"We can stop it and break the cycle," she said.

But the government move has been questioned by social service organizations, which say the government should concentrate on breaking the cycle of poverty.

Father Kevin Barr, of the Catholic Church, said: "We need a just, compassionate and an inclusive society."

Fiji Women's Crisis Center coordinator Shamima Ali said the gap between the rich and the poor is fast widening and needs to be looked at.

"Government needs to first address the economic issues in the country," she said.

Ms. Caucau said the decision to move prostitutes off the streets should not be seen as a harsh act.

But she said that there are two types of prostitution in the country. The first are those trading their bodies for money out of desperation and the others who have done that for years and enjoy doing it.

"We have programs ... that could be used by these girls," she said.

Ms. Caucau said it is likely charges would be laid under the Vagrancy Act to prevent professional beggars working Suva streets.

Ms. Caucau sad there are many beggars out on the streets who are not genuine at all.

The minister said that Suva city only had three genuine beggars, while about 25 were professional beggars moving from one town to another.

She said: "We have decided to crack down on these beggars. As from next year police officers and social welfare officers will pick up beggars, question them and take them to respective homes.

"They will be taken in and questioned and if need be they will be charged. We want to make it clear that begging is illegal."

For additional reports from The Daily Post, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Other News Sources/Fiji Live.

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