LEAD STORY: Anti
1 September 2003
Hundreds of children as young as four years old are being trafficked each year to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for use as camel jockeys, despite assurances that the practice would be banned from 1 September 2002.
The UAE Government's July 2002 announcement that using children under-16 and lighter than 45 kilograms to race camels would be banned from 1 September 2002, is not being implemented according to documentary evidence and reports from source countries.
Children are trafficked from Bangladesh, Pakistan and countries in Africa. They are abducted or sold by their parents, and forced to ride racing camels. Kept in brutal conditions, they are frequently deprived of food and water before races to keep them light. Children have been seriously injured and some have died both as a result of their treatment and from falls during races.
Because it is so dangerous, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has repeatedly called for the minimum age for camel jockeys to be 18 years.
Even though using children as camel jockeys has been illegal in the UAE since 1980 under various domestic and international legislation, to the best of our knowledge no UAE citizen has faced judicial proceedings for this offence and child trafficking continues unhindered. Despite repeated promises, the UAE Government has consistently failed to implement any of the measures that would protect children from this abuse.
Disappointingly, in June 2003, the US Government commended the UAE for its efforts against trafficking, including children as camel jockeys, in its Trafficking in Persons Report. It raised the UAE from Tier 3, reserved for the greatest offenders, to Tier 1 comprising countries whose governments are prohibiting trafficking and punishing acts of trafficking.
Recently some progress was made after Anti-Slavery International provided the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) with filmed evidence of young children racing camels in the UAE. The ICFTU submitted a documentary* at the International Labour Conference held in June 2003 in Geneva. The evidence played a key role in proving the UAE's assurances that the practice was a thing of the past were false. As a result, the UAE has agreed to an ILO visit later this year to discuss the problem.
It is vital the Government of the UAE introduce regular unannounced inspections to identify, release and rehabilitate any child currently being used as a camel jockey; that anyone responsible for trafficking or employing underage jockeys is prosecuted under existing laws; and that laws are introduced, and enforced, that prohibit employing children under 18 as camel jockeys. And that the UAE implement the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (2000).