News/Middle East: ILO draws attention to plight of child camel jockeys

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Subject: News/Middle East: ILO draws attention to plight of child camel jockeys
From: Melanie Orhant (
Date: Wed Apr 12 2000 - 05:15:23 EDT

           ILO draws attention to plight of child camel jockeys

    BANGKOK, March 10 (Kyodo) -- By: Tim Johnson Every year, scores of
children from South Asia are being smuggled to Persian Gulf states to be
used as jockeys for potentially life-threatening camel races, the
International Labor Organization (ILO) warned in a report Friday.
    The document, presented at a three-day international meeting on child
labor in Jakarta that began Wednesday, cited reports of children smuggled
out of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to the Gulf states for the
entertainment of spectators at camel races.
    The ILO said more than 19,000 boys from South Asia, ranging in age from
2 to 11 years, have been sent to the Middle East after having been either
kidnapped, sold by their parents or relatives, or taken on false pretenses,
eventually ending up as boy jockeys, mainly in the United Arab Emirates.
    The figure was attributed to Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid, a
Pakistani nongovernmental organization (NGO) campaigning against such human
    According to Anti-Slavery International, a London-based NGO also
involved in the campaign, the boys, who because their lack of weight and
high-pitched voices are believed to make the racing camels run fast down a
sand-covered track.
    During the race, the child jockey, who is strapped to the camel's back,
has little control over the animal. His job is simply to scream and whip
the camel to make it run faster.
    "The boys, who are often underfed and subjected to crash diets before a
race so they will be as light as possible...can easily slip off sideways
and either get trapped underneath the camel or trampled. It is not uncommon
for the children to fall off or get dragged along; sometimes to their
death," Anti-Slavery International says.
    Separated from their parents and completely dependent upon their
employers in countries where the people, language and culture are unknown
to them, the children reportedly face physical beatings if they refuse to
ride the camels or if judged to have performed badly.
    In 1993, after scores of deaths and injuries, human rights organizations
in Europe and South Asia succeeded in getting the UAE government to ban the
use of children under the age of 15 as camel jockeys.
    But in an August 1998 report to the U.N. General Assembly, Ofelia
Calcetas-Santos, the U.N. secretary general's special rapporteur on the
sale of children, cited evidence that the rules have been "blatantly
    In 1998, 10 Bangladeshi boys from poor families, aged between 5 and 8,
were rescued in India. They were reportedly being smuggled to the Gulf
region, having been lured away from their families on the promise of
high-paying jobs.
    On Feb. 25, the U.S. State Department said in a report on human rights
that despite the UAE government ban, a significant number of camel jockeys
in the country are children.
    "Relevant labor laws often are not enforced, as those who own racing
camels and employ the children come from powerful local families that are,
in effect, above the law," the report said.
    In September 1998, the U.S. State Department said, a 5-year-old
abandoned Bangladeshi child jockey whose leg had been broken by a camel was
reportedly hospitalized in the UAE, while last August a 4-year-old
Bangladeshi camel jockey was found wandering in the desert after he was
abandoned by his handlers.
    Last July, UAE authorities, acting on information provided by the
Pakistan Embassy, located and repatriated an 8-year-old Pakistani boy who
allegedly had been kidnapped to work as a camel jockey, it said.
    Anti-Slavery International has said it has evidence of new trafficking
routes opening up from northeast and west Africa, noting that in October
1997, police intercepted traffickers in Mali taking young Mauritanian
children to the Persian Gulf region, while there are also reports of young
Sudanese camel jockeys working in Qatar.

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