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Sunday, 5 November, 2000, 14:34 GMT
Gulf police rescue child jockeys
Dubai camel racing
Camel racing is highly popular in the Gulf

By BBC Middle East correspondent Frank Gardner

Police in the United Arab Emirates have rescued two Pakistani children who had been kidnapped and forced to work as camel jockeys.

The two brothers, aged four and six, were rescued by a police raid on a camel farm following a tip-off by the Pakistani embassy.

They are now awaiting repatriation.

Young, abused and frightened, Shajar and Shajawar Rasool, are still recovering from their ordeal at a camel farm in the Gulf Emirate of Al-Ain.

Kidnapped and sold

Both boys are well below the country's minimum legal weight for camel jockeys, which is 45kg.

According to the local paper, Gulf News, the two brothers were kidnapped from their home in northern Pakistan three months ago.

They were reportedly brought to the United Arab Emirates on false passports, then sold to a dealer for over $5000 each.

They were told they were going to be reunited with their father, who works in Dubai.

Instead, they were made to ride camels and denied food if they refused.

Injuries

One of the boys has reportedly sustained injuries to his legs and genitals from riding on a hard saddle.

Sadly, their story is not unusual. Camel racing is a hugely popular sport in the UAE and in other Gulf states.

Although the government has banned under-age jockeys, there remains a thriving illegal trade in child riders brought over from South Asia.

It is believed that thousands of such children are being forced to work as camel jockeys at remote farms and race tracks far from the public eye.

Their small size makes them a light burden for the camel, while the absence of their parents leaves them wide open to abuse.

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17 Apr 98 | Despatches
The seamy side of camel racing
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