Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association
Voices of three children joined the silent cries of the little Bangladeshi children working as camel jockeys in the Gulf countries. Camel racing is one of the most popular traditional sport in the Gulf
especially in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and given encouragement by the President of the country. In the camel race, the Arabs use children and/or minors as jockeys to spur the animals into coveted winning positions or to enhance their racing efforts. Since 1989 reports have been appearing in the national and international news media that children and/or minors were being smuggled out of Bangladesh illegally to some Gulf countries specially the UAE.
Although using children as jockeys was banned at the beginning of 1993, after a number of children fell from the camels during the races and died, several visual reports including the BBC exposed the reality to be far away from what is officially claimed. The piercing screams of child jockeys penetrated the television screens horrifying the innocent viewers and psychologically affecting them. National reports also have pointed out that no real effort has been made to trace offenders.
Questioning the failure of the Bangladesh government to prevent camel race using Bangladeshi children as jockeys in UAE, three children served otice demanding justice upon the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, Social Welfare, and the Women and Children Affairs.
The Notice for Demand of Justice states that they being minors are expressing their grievances and concerns by demanding justice through their guardians. The Notice alleges that the incidents are threats to the children in Bangladesh and are clear manifestation of the government's inefficiency in discharging duties and obligations under various laws of the country and the Constitution of Bangladesh. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified on August 3, 199, binds the Bangladeshi government to promote and implement its provisions. But the inaction of the authorities made the future generation panic-ridden, unsafe, vulnerable, and commodities for sports of the rich nations.
The children, therefore, demanded from the authorities to a) ensure that no more children are smuggled out of Bangladesh; b) ensure that no such camel race takes place with Bangladeshi children anywhere in the world; and c) take immediate measures to bring back all Bangladeshi children smuggled illegally for inhuman and immoral purposes especially those from UAE being or purported to be used as camel jockeys.
When the Bangladeshi government failed to respond to the notice at the stipulated time, the children filed a petition before the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. Upon hearing the petition, the court directed the Ministry of Home Affairs to submit a report on kidnapping, abduction and trafficking of Bangladeshi children outside Bangladesh specially regarding their engagement in the Middle East countries as camel jockeys contrary to the provisions of the Constitution and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Ministry was also asked to inform the Court of the measures taken by the government to ensure the safety of the children of Bangladesh within three weeks from the date of receipt of the court's notice.
In the report submitted to the court, the Ministry stated that stringent measures would be adopted regarding issuance of passports. Such measures will cover cases of minor children being included in the parent's passport. Individual interview of children to verify relationship with the applicants will be done. Police verification in cases of separate passports for
children will be required. Minors leaving Bangladesh will be questioned individually at all outgoing
check posts to determine their relationship to their escorts. The Bangladesh Land Border Security (Bagladesh Riels) has been instructed to keep strict observance of this measure. Efforts have been made to increase mass awareness to stop child trafficking. The Ansar and the Village Defence Programme (VDP) have been engaged to instruct every village to inform the nearest police station regarding child trafficking. Finally, the Bangladesh High Commission in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Bahraini, and others countries in the Gulf have been informed to take measures to repatriate any child taken to those countries as child jockey.
The report was criticized by the children's counsel for being vague, focused on steps that will be undertaken, and silent about the government's position in getting back the children already trafficked and its admission of failure in this regard. The court then ordered the Ministries to explain why they should not be directed to perform their respective and collective duties in preventing the kidnapping, abduction and trafficking of Bangladeshi children outside Bangladesh specially to engage them in the UAE as camel jockeys; and why they should not be further directed to take all necessary measures to repatriate all Bangladeshi children engaged as camel jockeys in the UAE to Bangladesh and rehabilitate them with their parents and/or guardians. The court also stated that the kidnapping, abduction and trafficking of Bangladeshi children is against the law, the Constitution and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The case is still being heard in the court. But the immediate concern of protecting the lives and limbs of Bangladeshi children used as camel jockeys is yet to be addressed by the government.