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Type of document: News
Topic: Actions/initiatives/projects
Law enforcement
Policy and Planning
Geographic descriptors: United Arab Emirates
Language: English
Publisher: Mercury News-Lexington
Date of publication: 7 November 2004
Long Abstract: Abdullah al-Saboosi, a UAE diplomat in Washington, said he doesn't follow camel racing, but that Sheik Mohammed "has a big charitable organization on his behalf to help children all over the world. Why would he be exploiting children in his own country? So I am very quite sure that he doesn't (use) them." And human rights activists say they have no evidence directly linking Sheik Mohammed to the use of boy camel jockeys. But there's little doubt that he is a key figure in the sport. He's the crown prince of Dubai; the Maktoum family owns the Nad Al Sheba camel racetrack as well as camel training facilities and a camel hospital. It's the sheik's role as UAE defense minister that the HBO documentary singled out, implying that the United States had backed off the touchy subject of child slavery because it needed a key Persian Gulf ally as the war with Iraq loomed. While al-Saboosi doesn't deny that the practice exists, he does deny that there are child jockeys used at the races at Nad Al Sheba. "If this is happening, it's happening in a remote area, away from where we can enforce the law," he said. UAE outlines measures The embassy released a letter from Ambassador Alasri S. Al Dhahri that outlined for HBO all the steps the UAE says it has taken to address the problem: mandatory DNA testing of child immigrants to confirm they are with their parents and are not kidnap victims, inspection of all camel races and camel stables, arranging police raids to check violations and checking jockeys' passports or ID cards. Al-Saboosi said that the emirates are working "very hard" to stop the practice. "I'm not defending the use of children in camel racing. All I'm saying is we are doing a lot to combat these problems," he said. "We've put laws in place." In fact, the use of children under 15 has been outlawed repeatedly since 1980. In 2002, UAE officials restated the ban, adding penalties for breaking the law: a $5,500 fine for the first offense, a yearlong suspension from racing for the second offense, and imprisonment for third and subsequent offenses. Earlier this year, the chairman of the Emirates Camel Racing Federation, Sheik Hamdan bin Zayed al Nahyan, said that the new rules were designed "with a view to maintaining camel racing as a respectable sport." He acknowledged that "there have been certain infringements of the existing rules of the federation," as well as violations of domestic laws and international agreements. In October 2003, partly in response to an Australian TV report on camel jockeys, the UAE agreed to accept a visit from human rights investigators from the United Nations' International Labour Organization. Those investigators were told that the UAE already had deported 42 jockeys after DNA tests proved the boys were not related to the people trying to bring them into the country. UAE officials said these actions had cut in half the number of visa applications for such children. But punishments for violating the child-jockey ban have been almost non-existent. A 2002 U.S. State Department human rights report said "there continue to be credible reports that hundreds of underage boys from South Asia, mainly between 4 and 10 years of age, continue to be used as camel jockeys." Despite laws saying all jockeys must be over 15, the report said, "almost all camel jockeys are children under the minimum employment age. Relevant laws in some cases are enforced against criminal trafficking rings, but not against those who own racing camels and employ the children, because such owners come from powerful local families that are in effect above the law." The State Department's June 2002 Trafficking in Persons report states that "the government of the United Arab Emirates does not fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. (The UAE) does not have a law criminalizing trafficking in persons. I The authorities have prosecuted foreign child smugglers, but do not investigate citizens involved in trafficking." The report points out that although the use of child camel jockeys is prohibited, "the camel Racing Association, not the government, is responsible for enforcing these rules." It appears little has changed in the past two years. The UAE told the United Nations group of only three prosecutions for using children as camel jockeys since 2002 - but none of the traffickers was a UAE national. One Sudanese trainer got three months in jail for the death of a jockey. According to UN records, the UAE also told the labor investigators last year that "the present legal and practical measures adopted in this respect are insufficient to prevent completely the trafficking of children I for work as camel jockeys." Child jockeys `everywhere' Since then, the only changes that independent observers have noted are increased efforts to hide the racing from Westerners. Catherine Turner, a child labor officer for the humanitarian organization Anti-Slavery International, said in an interview that when her group sent a photographer to Dubai in January, underage camel jockeys were "really everywhere to see if you looked in the right places." Turner said she knows of no links to specific sheiks, but the fact that the child slavery still exists indicates the UAE is not serious about combating the problem. "The sheiks do enjoy the camel racing; they are linked very closely to it. I If they chose to put their weight behind it (ending child slavery) that would be very welcome," Turner said. Higgs, the independent British photojournalist, visited the UAE this year between May and August. The main camel racing season had ended, but there were still "loads and loads of very young boys at Nad Al Sheba," the Dubai camel track, Higgs said. Higgs captured some of the boys on video for HBO's Real Sports despite a ban on photography at the track. He said in an interview that because of the inherent dangers he was able to see inside only one camel camp near Nad Al Sheba - a camp surrounded by barbed wire and that looked more like a prison camp than a training center, he said. Butin Dubai he found boys at the track, boys being hurried off camels and into pick-up trucks to head back for more mounts, and a trainer who said he felt the practice of using children this way violated Islamic law. Higgs estimates that there are at least 20,000 young foreign boys in the UAE as camel jockeys. Arab boys, he said, do not ride the camels because "it's beneath them." Some of the most appalling scenes - children showing off bruises, the chains where the boys are punished, allegations of rape - were filmed elsewhere in the emirates. But Higgs said he believes abuses also happen in Dubai, which human rights activists say is the center of the child slave trade. "It's pretty much countrywide," Higgs said. And there is no way, he said, that the sheiks who rule the emirates aren't aware of the practice - or that it is happening without their tacit approval. "These sheiks have a vise-like grip on power within the emirates," Higgs said. "They know exactly what's going on, and they are involved in anything involved with status. I And camel racing is an enormous status symbol." Sheik Mohammed "clearly knows what's going on as far as young children are concerned. They've just chosen to turn a blind eye to it for as long as they could get away with it," Higgs said. "If he didn't know what was going on, he would be guilty of the most immense incompetence. One thing the man is not is an incompetent."
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