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Before 2005, children as young as four were trafficked from countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sudan for use as jockeys in the Persian Gulf States' camel racing industry. While official policies are in place requiring a minimum weight of 45 kg (100 lb) of the jockey, these restrictions are ignored by most in the racing industry.
Child camel jockeys are often sexually and physically abused; most are physically and mentally stunted, and according to Prue Mason (Prue Mason wrote the novel Camel Rider, a fiction tale about real life circumstances) they are deliberately starved to prevent weight gain. According to a documentary by the American television channel HBO and the Ansar Burney Trust , some of the children are only fed two biscuits a day with water, and forced to work up to 18 hours per day.
Many camel jockeys were seriously injured by camels. the child jockeys live in camps (called "ousbah") encircled with barbed wire near the racetracks. Because the children were sold by their families and find themselves in an unfamiliar culture, they are dependent upon their captors for survival.According to the HBO documentary, the person who viewed the camp said it looked more like a prison camp than a home for children.
Many are unable to identify their parents or home communities in South Asia or Sudan. Unlike other forms of trafficking that usually involve adults or older children, child camel jockey trafficking presents enormous challenges to source country governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) seeking to return rescued children to their parents and original communities.
Hundreds of children have been rescued from camel farms in Oman, Qatar and UAE and taken back to their original homes or kept in shelter homes. Countries have issued penalties for those who trafficked child camel jockeys and ordered the owners responsibilities for returning the children back to their home countries.
However, they report that in many instances the children rescued were those who had been sold away by their own parents in exchange for money or a job abroad. If they were returned, the children would again be sold for the same purposes. Other children did not speak their native languages, or did not know how to live outside the camel farms.
Banning the use of child jockeys
UAE implemented stringent measures to eradicate the use of children as jockeys. The practice is officially banned in the UAE since the year 2002. The UAE was the first to ban the use of children under 15 as jockeys in the popular local sport of camel-racing when HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced the ban on July 29, 2002. Announcing the ban, Sheikh Hamdan made it very clear that "no-one would be permitted to ride camels in camel-races unless they had a minimum weight of 45 kg, and are not less than 15 years old, as stated in their passports." He said a medical committee would examine each candidate to be a jockey to check that the age stated in their passport was correct and that the candidate was medically fit.
Sheikh Hamdan said all owners of camel racing stables would be responsible for returning children under 15 to their home countries. He also announced the introduction of a series of penalties for those breaking the new rules. For a first offense, a fine of 20,000 AED was to be imposed. For a second offense, the offender would be banned from participating in camel races for a period of a year, while for third and subsequent offense, terms of imprisonment would be imposed.
- BBC - Help for Gulf child camel jockeys
- Gulf - Under-age camel jockeys get caring hand
- BBC - Child camel jockeys find hope
- CBC - The camel boys by Habiba Nosheen
- Ansar Burney Trust - camel jockeys related news, pictures and videos
- dubaicameljockeys.org - UAE government-run website concerning child camel jockeys
- Helping Camel Jockeys - Creating Opportunity for Former Camel Jockeys