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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 June, 2005, 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK
Repatriated child jockeys return
Camel jockeys return to Lahore
It is hoped that returning jockeys will be re-united with their parents
A group of 22 Pakistani children who worked as camel jockeys in the United Arab Emirates have returned to Pakistan following a UN-sponsored agreement.

They are the first batch of camel jockeys to return home after a deal signed least month between the UAE and the UN children's fund, Unicef.

The Minister of State for Overseas Pakistanis, Tariq Azim, received the repatriated jockeys at Lahore airport.

Unicef say most come from poor areas, and some are just three years old.

'Cumbersome procedure'

"It's the first sustained and collective effort to redress the problem and the process will certainly continue," Mr Azim said .

The BBC's Shahid Malik in Lahore says that the repatriated children are staying at the Punjab government's Centre for Protection and Welfare of Children.

Child camel jockeys in Muscat

Where possible, they will then be handed over to their parents, who will give an undertaking at the Child Protection Court that they will not allow them to become child jockeys again.

The Punjab Chief Minister's Adviser on Child Protection, Faiza Asghar said tracing their parents was a "cumbersome procedure" which in the cases of younger children would require a parental blood test.

But older children, like 17-year-old Abdul Hameed, are mature enough to recognise their parents.

Help and protection

"I am returning after seven years, but the last few years were spent just looking after the camels because I had grown up and ceased to be light-enough to be a jockey," said Abdul.

Mr Azim said that often children were taken abroad on the passport of women posing as their mother.

While the women would return home, the child would be left to work as a camel jockey.

The minister said that it was estimated that nearly 3,000 children involved in camel races are stranded in the UAE, out of which between 70 to 80% are of Pakistani origin.

My parents were poor and they sent me with fake parents to the UAE to earn some money
Returning child jockey Hakeem

Last month the UAE agreed a deal with Unicef and the governments of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, Mauritius and the UAE to repatriate child camel jockeys.

They agreed that help and protection would be offered to boys until they were sent back to their homelands.

The UAE banned jockeys aged under 16 and weighing less than 45kg (100lb) two months ago.

Following successful tests, the UAE says that it now plans to use robot jockeys in place of the boys.

Human rights groups say that child camel jockeys do still work in some Gulf countries, where they are deliberately underfed to keep them light.

They say that the jockeys are accommodated in prison-like conditions.

See the children on their emotional return home

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