Economists say they have no data on numbers, age or average income.
“There are gangs which are operating in different cities and they use orphans and runaway children to beg in crowded places,” economic analyst Kaiser Bengali said.
However, he said most beggars were in genuine need — the products of unemployment and Pakistan’s lack of a social security system.
“You can see very old people, who can barely walk or see, begging on the roads of Karachi and other cities, because they have no family or old age homes to take care of them,” he added.
According to the UN, around 49 percent of the estimated 180 million population of Pakistan live in poverty.
Private philanthropy is huge, with charity one of the five pillars of Islam.
The independent Pakistan Center for Philanthropy says around 70 billion rupees is donated annually, mostly straight into the hands of individuals to alleviate immediate hardship or to religious organizations.
Islamabad police claim to have launched a crackdown, but Haroon Yahya, a senior police official in Rawalpindi, says arrests are pointless.
“It has become so lucrative that they do not care about arrest or imprisonment for a month,” Yahya said.
“Most of them are now working in groups and protect each other. Police have busted many gangs, but after some time they again regroup,” he said.