The HBO'S REAL SPORTS show in October 2004 was a
three month undercover investigation of Child
Camel Jockeys in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
'Real Sports' travels to the U.A.E., for a special
expanded report called 'Desert Racers' on the
perilous lives of camel jockeys where many of the
atrocities were documented on hidden camera.
( Bryant Gumbel, one of America's most recognized
broadcasters, serves as the anchor for the program
which bears his name, 'Real
Sports with Bryant Gumbel'.)
The report alleged that the tiny jockeys who
compete in these races are victims of a horrible
slave trade. They are beaten, mistreated and, in
some cases, sexually abused. They have been
kidnapped or sold into slavery as mere infants.
In addition to enduring inhumane living conditions
and beatings, the boys are intentionally starved
to keep their weight down. Weak from
undernourishment, some are maimed or killed while
trying to pilot the 1500-pound camels.
Higgs, the independent British photojournalist,
captured some of the boys on video for HBO's Real
Sports despite a ban on photography at the track.
Higgs visited the UAE this year between May and
August. The main camel racing season had ended,
but there were still "loads and loads of very
young boys at Nad Al Sheba," the Dubai camel
track, Higgs said.
He said in an interview that because of the
inherent dangers he was able to see inside only
one camel camp near Nad Al Sheba -- a camp
surrounded by barbed wire and that looked more
like a prison camp than a training center, he
Some of the most appalling scenes -- children
showing off bruises, the chains where the boys are
punished, allegations of rape -- were filmed
elsewhere in the emirates.
But Higgs said he believes abuses also happen in
Dubai, which human rights activists say is the
center of the child slave trade.
"It's pretty much countrywide," Higgs said.
And there is no way, he said, that the sheiks who
rule the emirates aren't aware of the practice --
or that it is happening without their tacit
"These sheiks have a vise-like grip on power
within the emirates," Higgs said. "They know
exactly what's going on, and they are involved in
anything involved with status. ... And camel
racing is an enormous status symbol."
Catherine Turner, a child labor officer for the
humanitarian organization Anti-Slavery
International, said in an interview that when her
group sent a photographer to Dubai in January,
underage camel jockeys were "really everywhere to
see if you looked in the right places."
(See pictures taken by ASI photographer in
Dubai, Click Here.)
Turner said she knows of no links to specific
sheiks, but the fact that the child slavery still
exists indicates the UAE is not serious about
combating the problem.
"The sheiks do enjoy the camel racing; they are
linked very closely to it. ... If they chose to
put their weight behind it (ending child slavery)
that would be very welcome," Turner said.
Anti-Slavery International, in June 2004 released
photos that they said were taken in Dubai showing
child jockeys; they accused the UAE of keeping the
boys in brutal conditions.
Ansar Burney, a Pakistani activist who has
campaigned against the practice, said that Abu
Dhabi's crown prince contacted him last month
after seeing him in a documentary aired on HBO
detailing the plight of the young jockeys.
Burney said there are about 5,000 child jockeys in
the Emirates and some 40,000 in the region.
Children from poor countries are either bought
from their parents or kidnapped and brought to the
Emirates with fake passports where they are
incarcerated in camps.
"These children wake up quite early and work up to
17 hours everyday, they live in private jails and
are subjected to slave labor," Burney said.
Many from USA disturbed by the HBO report. I have
never seen anything as disturbing as this
documentary. Human rights abuse doesn't even come
close to describing the acts perpetrated against
these children. One comments.
And in retrospect by what some of them saw in UAE,
remembers child camel jockeys. Based on the way
they saw Arabs treat adult workers from India,
Pakistan or Bangladesh, they aren't surprised by
the allegations of child abuse.
You should have seen the faces of those young Arab
boys. I've seen that look many times when I
was walk in' the streets. Silent suffering. You
don't forget that look easily.
Those rich bastards sitting there cheering it on
and hoarding their human slaves. Made me want to
grab my Mossberg and smoke all those evils 'muthafuckas'
at point blank range. And to make it worse, the
United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) is an United States
ally since it has large oil reserves and a key
staging ground for American Forces in the Persian
Gulf. Another reacted.