A pair of young jockeys named Halwan, left and
Mohamed both from Sudan sit atop their camels at the start of the evening
exercise period at the Kuwait Camel Racing Club.
These boys are
professional camel jockeys.
They are the subject of complaints from
human rights advocates, who say young children should not be put astride
large animals for sport. They allege that some camel jockeys essentially are
slaves, sold into the sport from poor countries like Sudan and, more often,
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
On the most part, the children
enter Kuwait with men claiming to be their fathers on a visitors visa and
work through the racing season. Human rights advocates say some or all of
these may be slave traders.
The Protection Project, a group at
Johns Hopkins University that follows illicit trafficking of women and
children around the world, has found evidence of a black market for camel
jockeys in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, said it's co-director, Mohamed Mattar.
Boys are bought and sold in those countries and sent to Dubia, in the United
Arab Emirates and home to the Middle East's most famous camel stables, he
said. They sell for between $500 and $1000, and their families are
compensated at a rate of $120 a month while they are gone, he said.
Last year, a U. S. State Department report on the modern slave
trade cited examples of boys being taken from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and
Sir Lanka and sold for use in camel races. Reports like these seem to be
having an effect on the sport. Dubai passed a law requiring camel jockeys to
be at least 15 years old and weigh at least 45 kilograms. Saudi Arabia now
requires jockeys be 18 or over.
Kuwait has no such laws. The club
requires jockeys to be 10 or older and to weigh at least 20 kilograms. But
that rule apparently only applies to international competition like the
Kuwait Championship. Even then most of the boys in those races looked closer
to 5 than 10.