Foreign Policy Blogs

Children Enslaved In The Name of Sport


This past year the media brought one particular issue of child trafficking and slavery to the public’s attention, camel jockeys. This year alone 43 children have already been recovered in the Middle East. Many of the children have been taken from poorer areas of Pakistan and many with the consent of their parents, as traffickers are known to have promised to educate the children, and even charge the parents a monthly fee (Daily Times). Other children are simply abducted from their families, or sold to other traffickers who will take them to abusive training camps. In some unfortunate cases poverty stricken families willing give their children over, disillusioned by the thought of a steady income that their child will bring the family.

“Ansar Burneywho practically rescued hundreds of such children, whose ages are from one and a half year to three from the most miserable circumstances said40,000 innocent children are waiting for rescue to save their precious lives (Asia Child Rights)”.

Life as a camel jockey not only places children in inhuman conditions, where they are ill treated, malnourished, abused physically, and often sexually, but worst of all they are often killed for the name of sport. Children spend grueling days in the blistering desert sun, where they are beaten if they refuse to continue working, often as many as 18 hours a day. Sadly more care and money is spent on the camels then on the children who are forced to ride them. A winning camel is worth a million dollars or often more, making it a multi-billion-dollar business.

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar, followed by Oman, banned the use of camel jockeys in 2005, after significant pressure from the international community, and has since replaced them with robots.

Video About the Robots Replacing Child Jockeys in UAE

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The use of children as camel jockeys has been outlawed in Saudi Arabia, however the practices still continues, often with little regard for the law at all. The Ansar Burney Trust, recently reported the continuing use of child camel jockeys as young as 3, at Saudi races. Robots have also begun to replace child slaves in Kuwait, and policies have been put into place requiring a jockey to have a minimum weight of 45 kg (100 lb), these laws are often ignored. However many continue to ignore these laws, and one reason is that a large majority of those in the industry are actually government officials and heads of states.

Those working to rehabilitate and repatriate former child jockeys, know that many children are yet to be accounted for, and have proof of races still continuing. While children are harder to find in day races, many illusive night races are continuing to use children, and this only leaves one to wonder if these children are enduring even more horrendous abuses, as they have been pushed farther underground.,

The Independent, “A Race of Young Slaves’, tells the story of one boy of only six, sold by his own parents, who was seriously injured after he was crushed in a camel race, leaving him unable to speak and causing the lose of one eye. So why do countries participate in such a deplorable acts against innocent children? The answer as it always does, boils down to greed! Camel racing is a big business in the Middle East and can bring in millions of dollars a year to camel owners, and is a billion dollar a year industry. However is is also in part a laziness of sorts, for could one not find smaller adults, as we do with horse racing, to ride camels? Yes, of course with some effort this could be done, but many cultures in the Middle East buying child slaves is rooted deeply, and will continue until further efforts are made to strengthen and enforce laws, and continue to provide alternatives for the use of human slaves. Though great strides are being made, the road is a long, and the suffering of former child slaves will never end.

As thousands of children are being returned to their home countries and families, yet there are many who are still waiting for someone to claim them, and others are at risk to be sold again into slavery (Parents fail to claim freed Pakistani camel jockeys). Many families that sold their children, will only sell them again for the same purpose, or that of another form of child slave labor. Some of the children have been unable to be returned home, as they are disabled, no longer speak their native languages, or simply are now unable to cope with life outside the camel farm.

The case of child camel jockeys, illustrates the effect that the international community and average citizens can have the abuses of children around the world. Next time you think, “I am only one, person, what can I really do…”, remember your voice really can be heard and it can make a difference.

Ansar Bruney Trust
New Internationalist, “Riding for Their Lives” – Photo Essay
Camel Jockeys in the Middle East
Information and Resources on Camel Racing
Qatar Camel Races
United Arab Emirates and United Nations Children’s Fund Rehabilitation Programme for Children Formerly Involved in Camel Racing (CICR)
Dubai Camel Jockey’s
Child Jockeys: 40,000 children on slave labour as “child camel jockeys’ in Middle East and Arab countries



Cassandra Clifford

Cassandra Clifford is the Founder and Executive Director of Bridge to Freedom Foundation, which works to enhance and improve the services and opportunities available to survivors of modern slavery. She holds an M.A., International Relations from Dublin City University in Ireland, as well as a B.A., Marketing and A.S., Fashion Merchandise/Marketing from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Cassandra has previously worked in both the corporate and charity sector for various industries and causes, including; Child Trafficking, Learning Disabilities, Publishing, Marketing, Public Relations and Fashion. Currently Cassandra is conducting independent research on the use of rape as a weapon of war, as well as America’s Pimp Culture and its Impact on Modern Slavery. In addition to her many purists Cassandra is also working to develop a series of children’s books.

Cassandra currently resides in the Washington, D.C. metro area, where she also writes for the Examiner, as the DC Human Rights Examiner, and serves as an active leadership member of DC Stop Modern Slavery.

Areas of Focus:
Children's Rights; Human Rights; Conflict