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Friday, April 17, 1998 Published at 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK


The seamy side of camel racing
image: [ Camels being trained for ever-popular races ]
Camels being trained for ever-popular races

The plight of children from South Asia forced to become jockeys in camel races in the Middle East has recently received international attention.

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge reports from India, cruelty to the youngsters involved has been denounced and there are increasing efforts to protect vulnerable children.

Camel racing is the seamy side of a popular sport in the Gulf.

It involves small children being strapped to the camels. The more the children scream the faster the camels run and fatal accidents are not unknown.

Through middle-men, impoverished families particularly in Bangladesh, have been persuaded to part with boys as young as five.

[ image: Some boys are taken when they are just five]
Some boys are taken when they are just five
The children are often themselves unaware of their plight. One group of Bangladeshi children were rescued in India from an alleged plot to smuggle them to work as jockeys.

Indian police believe they intercepted these children (pictured) from child traffickers and they are the latest to return home to Bangladesh.

If boys are potential victims of camel racing, campaigners say young girls are vulnerable to prostitution.

[ image: Dr Monini Giri: 'Thousands of children suffer the same fate']
Dr Monini Giri: 'Thousands of children suffer the same fate'
"There are many more thousands of children here who are undergoing the same fate, whom we want to rescue," says Dr Monini Giri of the Indian Women's Commission.

"We want to get by the year 2000 a zero level of trafficking."

Most of the children returning say they look forward to seeing their families. Others say they don't want to go back to stepfathers who might have sold them in the first place.

[ image: Homeward-bound: children rescued by Indian police]
Homeward-bound: children rescued by Indian police
The trafficking of children for all sorts of purposes is a growing phenomenon in Asia.

Even though these children are now heading home, no-one doubts that many others will be enticed to follow the same route they have.

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