OSLO (Reuters) - Norway’s government dropped a plan to ban begging on Thursday after opposition parties and rights campaigners said it would criminalize anyone offering help to the poorest people in one of the world’s richest nations.
The opposition Centre Party dropped its previous support of the proposed law, leaving the minority right-wing government — which has linked begging to rising crime rates — without a majority to get it through parliament.
The legislation would have banned both begging and “cooperation” with beggars, with fines or up to a year in jail, in an attempt to outlaw gangs suspected of organizing trips for homeless people from nations including Romania.
But the Centre Party said the clause outlawing cooperation could threaten simple acts of charity.
“It cannot be a crime to give clothes, food and shelter,” Marit Arnstad, head of the party’s parliamentary group, told the NTB news agency. She said the party would now not support any national ban on begging, no matter how it was phrased.
Rights campaigners have also described the law as draconian and against Nordic traditions of tolerance.
Deputy Justice Minister Vidar Brein-Karlsen told Reuters the proposed law had now been dropped. “Everyone knows begging creates debate, and we can only note that the Centre Party has changed their standpoint,” he said in a statement.
The Centre Party has often cooperated with the two-party coalition in cracking down on crime.
Last year the three linked begging to an increase in crime, saying in a joint statement that there had been an “explosion” in pick pocketing in Oslo to match the number of cases in Berlin, which has seven times the population.
Norway, rich from oil and gas, has a sovereign wealth fund worth $860 billion, or $170,000 for each of Norway’s 5 million population. Last year, the government passed a law allowing local municipalities to outlaw begging in public places.
Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Andrew Heavens