The UAE has more than two million camels and camel races are among the most popular sports events in the country. The camel races take place every winter, from October to April on various tracks throughout the UAE. His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, along with other rulers of the emirates, attends most of the races.
Camel owners are continuously encouraged by Sheikh Zayed, which includes financial incentives, prizes that include luxury cars, four-wheel-drives, mansions, yachts,
cash and gold sword. One of the major events, the Zayed Grand Prize camel
races, is being held at Al Wathba race track, a large 10km track, about 45km from Abu Dhabi city. Major races are also held at the Nad Al Sheba Camel Race Course in Dubai.
The jockeys are usually young boys, two
to seven year olds chosen for their light weight. The beginning of the races marks a festive season for the UAE's people who are usually accompanied by traditional music and singing to the
Arabian drum beats. The green, red, black and
white national flag of the Emirates flutters atop high poles that line the road leading out from town.
Human rights organizations (Not permissible in the UAE) continued to express concerns that in the UAE, the lives of young boys are being put at risk for the entertainment of spectators at camel races. Information provided by them stated that very young boys would continue to be used in camel racing despite the fact that this was illegal.
The new rules published by Emirates Camel Racing Federation
in June 2003,
stipulated that any camel jockey must be aged 15 years or more and weigh at least 35kg. Although, the rules are being ignored and the allegations remain that the Emirate government has acknowledged that many racers are too young and weigh too little but avoid stopping the traffic of slaves because they themselves are camel and slave owners.
Children, usually abducted or sold voluntarily from, where else, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to camel racing syndicate in the UAE. The weight of the jockey is crucial to the success of the venture, so young boys; even two year olds are imported! South Asian boys in particular are recruited because they tend to be the cheapest, weigh less and tend to scream louder at a higher pitch than most adults, causing camels to run faster.
The tiny riders are bound to a camel's back, often using Velcro fastenings. But sometimes the
kids slip off and either get trapped underneath the camel or are trampled. It is not uncommon for children to fall off or get dragged along, sometimes to their deaths, according to a report from the London-based human rights group Antislavery International.
A Pakistani boy who worked five years as a camel jockey, starting at age 4, remembers the race as noisy and dangerous, where more than 50 camels with screaming children strapped onto their backs would run. He personally saw about 20 children die, and more than a dozen injured every week. He recalls: "There was this one kid whose strap broke at the beginning of the race. His head was crushed between the legs of the running camel. Once the race has started it cannot stop.
Many of these under-aged riders have been left to die from the appalling injuries suffered on the desert race courses without any medical treatment. The camels are valuable
assets worth millions of dollars,
instead the children are viewed as cheap and expendable.
With camel racing heavily patronized by the UAE's oil-rich rulers,
who have least respect in the
legislature, thousands of small children from Indian sub continent face a bleak and dangerous future.
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