Sarah Alam, of Pakistan, is a young lady and a member of the Junior Journal, which, like the Melrose Mirror, works with the Media Lab at MIT in the development of publishing software. The Journal is operated totally by the young people of the Junior Summit, a group of some 3000 youngsters around the world, dedicated to making this planet a better place to live. Ms. Alam's article, reprinted with her permission, appeared in the Journal's October issue.
It is really depressing to see the rising toll of smuggling of children used as camel-jockeys in Pakistan. However this important matter is not given much importance in the country and very little is done to check the menace.
The camel-kid phenomenon could also be termed as an offshoot of the houbara bustard hunting by foreigners in the country. Initially, the camel race organizers bought children from next door Oman or Sudan, impoverished African countries, but when the Sheikhs started coming for houbara hunting to Pakistan in the 1970s, they saw the poverty among the nomadic tribes in and around their hunting reserves in the desert regions.
Poverty and greed are the two main reasons that result in the smuggling of a large number of innocent young children usually below seven years of age - to the Gulf States, particularly the United Arab Emirates. Poverty is said to be the single-most important factor that forces poor parents, normally having large families with many children, to give away their young to greedy human smugglers who use fake travel documents to smuggle out children, terming them as their own, with the concerned government agencies in connivance. The parents are also lured into the trap by the promise of lucrative jobs in the Gulf, in order to escape hopeless poverty.
Traditionally, camel races have been taking place in the Gulf and other Arabian countries for centuries and nothing wrong is considered with it. The inhuman aspect creeps in when race organizers look the other way when young children are mounted on camelback. A child is strapped to the back of the camel with a rope and the camel, which is whipped into a frenzy, is further propelled by the petrified shrieks of the frightened child. The younger and lighter the child, the louder the screams of terror and greater the speed of the camel. The cruel camel race organizers prefer children that are below seven years, and weigh between 15 to 17 kilograms.
Majority of the children die in these races. When a child falls during a race there is a very high probability of his being crushed under the feet of the camels that follow.
According to few investigations aired on television and published in the news papers:
A few days back, two children were recovered from their captors, by the Karachi police. Arif & Majeed both the seven-year-olds were lucky, for they had been successfully smuggled out to Dubai. Their purchaser in the oil-rich Sheikh-dom had refused the delivery of human consignment, as the children were overweight.
Hence, they had to be brought back. Had they been of proper specifications, they would have become camel-kids - as young camel-jockeys are known - and might have died riding camels in races, or, if lucky, gotten merely injured and/or crippled.
Mohammad Aslam, one of the accused in the case, arrested by the police, said that he worked for Dubai-based Wazir Ali, who agreed to pay him 8,000 UAE Dirhams for every boy who matched the specifications delivered at Dubai.
The co-accused in the case, Anwer, who has been involved in child-smuggling for quite sometime now, said that he had some relatives in the Federal Investigations Agency (FIA) who facilitated them to pass successfully through the airport when they, along with the kids, went to Dubai.
According to another report:
The Taftan administration (Taftan is a border town near the Pakistan-Iran border) have busted a gang of 10 people, including five women, who were involved in kidnapping and smuggling children to the United Arab Emirates for selling them to camel race operators.
They have recovered 10 children, aged between 5 to 10 years, who had been kidnapped from Punjab by the members of a human-smuggling gang. The Taftan administration sources said that the Immigration authorities had arrested a man and woman, and two brothers, Mohammad Akbar and Fayyaz, who wanted to cross into Iran.
During questioning, they disclosed that they had kidnapped the children from Punjab and were now trying to smuggle them to the UAE, to be used as "camel kids," in races.
They also disclosed to the investigation officers that a big gang was involved in this illegal business, operating in Punjab and Sindh. They had sold dozens of children to camel race operators in the in UAE.
It is really sad to see that even women are part of such inhuman practices. How can anyone be so cruel? Is money everything in life that one does not even hesitate in taking the lives of innocent children? This is the worst sort of child labor. It is a shame that some people try to cash in on the problems of less fortunate people. Are poor people not humans? Are children not humans? These people have a right to live?
The questions remain unanswered, in spite of being aware, mass poverty forces people to keep their eyes closed.
November 2, 2001