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FIJI’S CAPITAL FACES CHALLENGES WITH HOMELESS Transients, street kids, prostitutes are sign of larger social issues

By Avinesh Gopal SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Dec. 28, 2011) – Homeless people are begging for money and drinking alcohol in dark alleys of the capital city. Apart from the homeless, there are others who beg for their daily survival. These groups of people, including prostitutes and street kids, have become a major concern for the Suva City Council.

Suva's special administrator Chandu Umaria said there were a lot of social problems in the city. Mr. Umaria said there was an increase in the number of beggars, street kids, homeless people and prostitutes in Suva.

"It's something that we cannot overcome soon and we have to work with the relevant government departments, police and non–government organizations," he said.

"We need to talk to these types of people and find out why they are on the streets and how can we accommodate them. Prostitution is a concern too." He said like homeless people, beggars and street kids, prostitution was a worldwide problem and it was hard to take the prostitutes off the streets.

[PIR editor’s note: In November, as many as one-third of Fiji’s population was living in poverty, according to an Australian development coordination official at the launch of the Social Protection and Poverty Report. While poverty rates nationwide dropped from 2002, rural poverty remained constant at about 44 percent of the population in those areas. A United Nations report claimed that the government was not doing enough to address poverty and other social issues in Fiji, but social welfare minister Dr. Jiko Luveni responded by saying the government spent close to US$60 million on programs meant to alleviate social problems.]

He said there was a need to talk to the prostitutes and find alternative forms of income for them so they are not on the streets to earn money.

"The homeless people and beggars sit in front of automated teller machines, banks and busy corridors of the city. People can't walk freely on the streets and it just doesn't look good as far as the tourism industry is concerned."

Mr. Umaria said people drinking on the streets in some corners of the city created fear among people going about their daily business.

He said the council had received complaints of people drinking in dark corners of the city, which created fear in passers-by.

"We would like to see that people don't walk in fear on the streets of Suva and in fact people should not walk in fear at any place in the city or the country. These issues are something that we want to tackle in 2012 with the assistance of other relevant government departments and organizations."

Mr. Umaria said his vision for next year was to see how the council could help the homeless people, the beggars and the street kids.

He said the council would also look at ways of curbing the problem of prostitution, including that by some Asian nationals.

He told a local government meeting last week that the council had a system to identify who were the real beggars as some had taken a professional status.

He said the council would set up a committee and call for applications from needy students next year.

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