Reporter: Geoff Thompson
“This is the worst job in the world. The people of this country – I give them work but they make me a
Jakir. UAE camel jockey. Now aged 8. Abducted at 2 years of age.
The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) city of Dubai has a reputation as the glitz capital of the Persian Gulf – where fabulous oil wealth makes everything possible.
Home to the ‘Dubai Cup’ reputedly the world’s richest horse race – the city also hosts another multi billion dollar sporting industry – camel racing – an enterprise built on the backs of the world’s poorest children, some of them abducted and enslaved to work as camel jockeys.
South Asia correspondent Geoff Thompson travels to Dubai to report on the Sport of Sheikhs – It is a story the leaders of this Gulf state didn’t want told.
For wealthy Gulf Arabs, camel racing is a passion – where winning is everything, laws are ignored, and jockey’s lives squandered. The smaller and lighter the jockey – the faster the camel. Since 1993 jockeys under 15 years of age have officially been banned, but trackside, Thompson discovers jockeys as young as 3, children from Bangladesh, Pakistan and other Third World countries. Sold by poverty-stricken parents, they are smuggled to the UAE and traded to camel racing syndicates. Camel riding is a dangerous business where injury and death are common .
In camel racing it appears everyone wins except the jockeys. Thompson films the ramshackle huts housing the children – where they spend a few hours sleeping on the floor between races – and where they are routinely beaten or whipped for failing to perform well in a race.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of abuse and underage jockeys, UAE authorities remain in denial “It is absolutely impossible….to find a jockey who is below 15 years of age and it will never happen” says Khalsan Khamees, head of the Camel racing Federation.
The delusion extends to Bangladesh – home for many abducted jockeys. Thirty percent of Bangladesh’s meagre wealth comes from the wages of expatriates working in the Gulf. Bangladesh’s Government claims to be cracking down on child labour, despite evidence to the contrary.
With camel racing heavily patronised by the UAE’s rich and powerful, thousands of small children face a bleak and dangerous future.