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Cash aid for Bangladesh jockeys

By Mark Dummett
BBC News, Dhaka

File picture of child jockeys during camel race in UAE
The Gulf state outlawed the use of child jockeys in 2002

Hundreds of Bangladeshi boys who worked as camel jockeys in the United Arab Emirates have begun receiving compensation from the Gulf state.

Many of the boys, who were trafficked and lived on camel farms for years with no contact with their parents, broke limbs falling from the camels.

The boys, who were as young as three, say they were starved by the camel owners to keep their weight down.

The Gulf state outlawed the use of child jockeys in 2002.

Then the UAE government agreed with the UN Children agency, Unicef, to co-operate on the "repatriation, rehabilitation and reintegration" of children involved in the sport.

No amount of money would be enough to erase those memories
Munna, former camel jockey

Some 900 boys, many of whom are now young men, are due to receive compensation, ranging between $1,000 and $10,000 each.

The boys were prized as jockeys by the camel owners and race organisers because they were so small and because it was relatively easy and cheap get hold of them.

Munna, who is now in his 20s, and his two brothers who were also camel jockeys, have just received compensation from the UAE government of about $5,000.

He says he fell from a camel, which then trod on his arm and broke it - he says it still hurts and he cannot do any heavy work.

File picture of child jockeys during camel race in UAE
Most say they were tricked into working as camel jockeys

"I suffered a lot there. It was a terrible place. No amount of money would be enough to erase those memories. But at least with this, I can start a little business. [The compensation] is good, but nothing would be enough," he said.

Another jockey, Salman, said life on the "camel farms" in the UAE was hard.

"The camels used to kick us. When we rode the camels the owners would tie our legs to the saddles. But I would still fall off and get injured. Each time I fell off they put me back on the camel, then I fell off again, then they put me back on," he said.

"My life was really hard. I thought I would never learn to ride - but when I didn't want to get back on, the foreman used to beat me."

Salman said the organisers would give the boys tablets to run the races.

"Every week they used to give us tablets and every three months also they would inject us. They did this so we lost weight," he said.

Most say they were tricked into going to the Gulf state to work as camel jockeys.

"We had no idea that's what we were going to do when we went to Dubai," says Munna.

The use of children under 15 as camel jockeys was banned in the UAE in 2002. They were later replaced by robots.



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SEE ALSO
Pay-out for child camel jockeys
17 Dec 06 |  Middle East
Child jockeys to return to Bangladesh
20 Aug 02 |  South Asia
The seamy side of camel racing
17 Apr 98 |  Despatches
Country profile: United Arab Emirates
10 Feb 11 |  Country profiles

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