Are child Jockeys still racing in the UAE?
Camel racing is one of the most popular sporting events in the United Arab Emirates and is a massive tourist attraction. Children were often used as jockeys because they were light and flexible.
In 2004 it was estimated that at least 5,000 child jockeys were working in the UAE. Most of these children had been trafficked from countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia. They were usually kidnapped or bought from their families with false promises of a better life. Children trafficked for camel jockeying have been as young as 2 years old.
To make sure child jockeys were light they were often starved and given only biscuits and water. If the children were too heavy, they had weights tied to their backs and were made to run in the heat. The boys lived as slaves, in hot, crowded tin huts and were forced to clear camel dung with their bare hands. They trained 2 to 3 times a day despite the exhausting heat.
Camels can run as fast as 40mph so many boys fell off. Without protective clothing many were severely injured, disabled or even killed. Camel owners are also known for beating the children if they didn’t win.
Due to international pressure, using child jockeys in camel racing was banned in the UAE in 2005 making it illegal for anyone under 15 and weighing less than 45kg to take part. Children were replaced with robot jockeys that weigh less and can whip the camels in the same way. The governments have committed to repatriating former child jockeys and are compensating them for the abuses they received.
Despite this and although it’s illegal, Anti-Slavery have found the UAE are still using child jockeys. Following a big 12 race competition in Abu Dhabi the organisation released pictures of children as young as 10 years old racing.
Children approached by Anti Slavery International spoke Bengali, Urdu and Hindi. Many said they had been racing for five years.
Officials say no laws have been broken – that these are local boys riding with their parents’ consent.