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Bangladesh Asks for Help in Return of Smuggled Children Used as Camel Jockeys - 2002-08-20

The government of Bangladesh has asked the International Organization for Migration, the IOM, to assist in the repatriation of child camel jockeys from the United Arab Emirates. Human rights organizations have long criticized the use of underage, underweight children in this dangerous sport.

Camel racing is a popular sport in the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf States. The problem, as the IOM sees it, is that young children are often smuggled into these countries by a network of unscrupulous traffickers. IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy says the children are sometimes kidnapped and sold to camel owners who train them to become jockeys.

"Some of the children are kidnapped at a very young age, some as young as two," he said. "Others are sold by their families, very poor families sell the children to employers in the United Arab Emirates. Obviously, these children are from a very poor background. They spend years in the United Arab Emirates working as camel jockeys."

The IOM says a child can be bought for as little as $75. Private aid agencies in Bangladesh estimate around 2,000 children have been trafficked to the United Arab Emirates in the 1990s.

Mr. Chauzy says camel riding is a very dangerous sport. He says children who fall off the camels can be seriously disabled. He says child jockeys in the UAE and other Gulf States are kept in inhuman conditions and are underfed to keep down their weight. Mr. Chauzy says the plight of these children is a very emotional issue in Bangladesh and pressure has been put on the government to do something about it.

"Last month, the United Arab Emirates introduced a ban on the employment of children under the age of 15 and weighing less than 45 kilograms as camel jockeys," Mr. Chauzy said. "And, we know that this ban will come into effect on the first of September, before the next camel racing season begins in October. Obviously, the authorities in Bangladesh and IOM feel that it is probably now, the time to act and to put in place the appropriate program to make sure that these children can return and can be re-integrated into their home society."

IOM's Jean-Philippe Chauzy says these children are likely to face difficulties in their homeland. He says many were trafficked at a very early age and cannot recognize their parents nor speak their language. UAE government measures to stamp out the practice include a new medical committee to check the age and weight of jockeys before races, and airport checks to stop traffickers from bringing unaccompanied children into the country. Under the new regulations, Mr. Chauzy says the owners of camel racing stables will be responsible for the cost of repatriating child jockeys under the age of 15.