Friday, May 22, 2009

The child slaves who were once used in camel races

Even though they now use robots, the United Arab Emirates trafficked in children to use in camel races. The children were used as jockeys because of their light weight and were in slavery to the camel owners.

The UAE is paying reparations to the children formerly used in the races. Some 879 children from Bangladesh, Sudan and Pakistan will receive a share of 1.45 million dollars.

From Al Jazerra, writer Nicolas Haque profiles one of the former jockeys, Shameen Miah

Shameem was just three years old when he travelled to the Gulf state of Dubai.

Lured by the promise of a better life, his family says they sold all of their land and belongings, even going into debt, in order to pay for the move.

His father says he paid $4,500 dollars to migrant traffickers who had promised him gainful employment in the UAE. The traffickers had arranged for the children to work as well.

On arrival in Dubai, Shameem and his two brothers - then aged five and six - were separated from their parents to take part in camel races.

A toddler, Shameem had only just learnt to walk when he was first sat upon a camel's back.

"I used to be so scared of the camels, at the beginning I would fall off the camels all the time," Shameem says.

His brother Muna says that Shameem was so small that he had to be strapped on to the camel.

'Deliberately starved'

Their terrified screams allegedly drove the camels to race even faster, much to the satisfaction of the camel owners.

Prized for their light weight, child jockeys tell of being deliberately starved, often going days without food, in order to keep them below 20 kilos.

"The camel owners would weigh us, if we ate too much, they would give us electrical shocks. I was so scared of them, I remember, if I would lose a race they would beat us," Shameem says.

To this day, Shameem still bears the scars of five years of abuse by his employer, and countless falls. Many other child jockeys, however, have suffered much worse, sustaining life long injuries from being trampled under the charging camels.

Some are known to have died.

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