#AceNewsServices (SEA – Exclusive) – September 23 – Apparently, human beings have managed to assimilate the crabs’ ability to walk forth and back with equal ease. This is evident in many human activities, particularly in the field of human rights, where bigger steps backward often reverse smaller steps forward. The case of the camel child-jockeys in the Middle East is just one more clamorous example.
‘ Child Jokey’s Trafficked as Bangladesh Slaves ‘
Camel racing is an old Bedouin tradition in the Arab region, particularly in countries with large deserts. In recent decades, it has become a lucrative tourist attraction. Unlike the fights between gladiators and between men and lions in old Rome, and present-day dog-fights and cock-fights in the U.S. and China, as well as the bull-fights in Spain – all of which end with the death of one of the combatants – camel racing used to be a way of showing the tribesmen pride for possessing the best camels in the region.
Gradually, these races were transformed in a sort of organized business. This required more sophisticated preparations, such as the use of light-weight riders or jockeys. The human mind understood that young children appeared as the best option for the job. Human trafficking networks came to the rescue for provision of “supplying” the demands of this strenuous business.
Recruited by human traffickers with the promise of a better life, thousands of children were hijacked or bought from the poorest families in poor countries, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sudan and then ‘exported’ to the Gulf countries, for their exploitation as camel-jockeys.
STARVED TO SERVE
Once trafficked into Gulf-States, children became totally dependent on their owners. Race organizers would go further – they would force those children to work hard without eating, to the very limit of starvation.
Perhaps one of the most comprehensive professional media reports on this issue is the one filed by Al Jazeera’s reporter Nicolas Haque on May 22 from Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Haque tells the story of a boy called Shameem Miah, who was just three years old when he travelled to the Gulf state of Dubai. “Lured by the promise of a better life, his family says they sold all of their land and belongings, even going into debt, in order to pay for the move,” Haque reports.
He goes on: “Shameem Miah is one of 879 Bangladeshi children who will receive compensation from the United Arab Emirates for years of suffering as child camel-jockey. The Bangladeshi authorities have received 1.43 million dollars from the UAE, which will be distributed among the families of former child-jockeys.” Commenting on the UAE’s decision to economically compensate the child victims of such practices and their families, Haque says “this is an unprecedented move to compensate child-jockeys for camel races”.
Haque then explains that a strong pressure from human rights groups led the UAE to ban the use of child-jockeys in 2005. Most had been trafficked from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sudan.
According to the report, Shameem’s father paid 4,500 dollars to migrant traffickers who had promised him gainful employment in the UAE. The traffickers had arranged for the children to work as well.
“On arrival in Dubai, Shameem and his two brothers – then aged five and six – were separated from their parents to take part in camel races,” tells Haque. “A toddler, Shameem had only just learnt to walk when he was first seated upon a camel’s back.”
“I used to be so scared of the camels, at the beginning, I would fall off the camels all the time,” Shameem says. His brother Muna says that Shameem was so small that he had to be strapped on to the camel, says the report, adding that the children’s “terrified screams drove the camels to race even faster, much to the satisfaction of the camel owners”.
Prized for their light-weight, the child-jockeys say they were intentionally starved, often going days without food, in order to keep them below 20 kilos, says the report.
“The camel owners would weigh us and if we ate too much, they would give us electrical shocks. I was so scared of them, I remember, if I would lose a race they would beat me,” Shameem is quoted saying.
Haque reports that “to this day, Shameem bears the scars of five years of abuse by his employer, and countless falls”. Many other child-jockeys, however, have suffered much worse, sustaining life-long injuries from being trampled under the charging camels. Some are known to have died. “For five years Shameem and his brother lived and worked in a barbed wire encircled camp near the desert race track, where they often labored 18 hours a day for a payment of only four dollars a month,” Al Jazeera reporter says.
CHILDREN, SOLD INTO SLAVERY
Even this tiny wage was of help to Shameem’s father, 45-year-old Abul Kashem Miah – many children were in effect sold into slavery and received nothing. “For Shameem’s father, the situation was heartbreaking,” says Haque. “He deeply regrets that he could not prevent the use of his sons as camel jockeys, saying: ‘All I could think of was paying off our debt and getting out of poverty so that we could leave to go back to Bangladesh’.”
The report goes on to tell that at the age of eight, Shameem was discarded by his employer, deemed too old and heavy to race camels. But it’s clear that his experience of camel jockeying will remain with him forever,” says the report, “as he describes training with the camel every day, being fed just biscuits and water, allowed to sleep – only when completely exhausted – alongside the other children, directly on the sand.”
“He says he rarely rode with a helmet and constantly burned his feet on the hot desert sand because he had not been given shoes.”
Haque informs that only 874 former child-jockeys will receive compensation despite the fact that many more are believed to have been trafficked. Most of those still awaiting payment are now teenagers.
The report also takes up the issue of missing children, saying that according to the UK-based human rights group, Anti-Slavery International, some 2,000 unaccounted for child camel jockeys have not yet returned to their families from the Gulf states.
Nevertheless, there is still the ugly face of some communities which have the luxury to see the children suffering and working to starve them so as to lose weight in order to win in these old Bedouin practices called camel races.
Despite curbing bans international pressure, child slaves still continue to be used as camel jockeys in many parts of UAE and Gulf States. The children are trafficked and sold or lent at low prices, to other countries.
The hugest obstacle is that the camel jockey races are held under the pretext of development and promotion of tourism.
A recent example being the camel-racing festival at Sweihan in Abu Dhabi, the photographs and videos released to the international media showed young children riding camels at this event that was also attended by dignitaries and uniformed police officers.
Observers from the UK-based Anti-Slavery International advocacy group also saw one child fall from a camel and narrowly escape being trampled on at the same race-rack. The presence of UAE authorities at the event is also disturbing as it indicates that even senior government officials are not taking child protection very seriously, despite the ban.
REPATRIATED BACK INTO ANOTHER HELL
Over the years, many children and boys were simply handed back to the unscrupulous parents who sold them in the first place. expressed their grave concern about these practices. A large number of them get handed over to madrassas (religious schools) and orphanages funded and controlled by extremist groups.
Their repatriation has not necessarily led to their rehabilitation or reintegration back into society, in fact it’s an escape from one kind of hell to another.
The time has come to put an end to this barbaric, inhumane and appalling menace. Till that time nobody really knows how many more childhoods will be stolen – all for the pleasure of the rich-Arabs of Middle East, self-proclaimed followers of the true tradition of Islam.
Courtesy of The Human Lens
1. Al Jazeera Bangaldesh reportage by Nicolas Haque
2. Asia Development Media