At least 30 boys a month are being kidnapped in Pakistan and taken to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where they are sold to work as camel-racing jockeys, Ansar Burney, chairman of a human rights organisation in Karachi, told IRIN.
The Ansar Burney Welfare Trust International (ABWTI), said the number of children being smuggled abroad from Pakistan was rapidly rising, and that more than 2,000 had been taken to so-called camel camps over the last two years. Girl jockeys are not favoured for religious and cultural reasons, but boys, especially those younger and lighter, are being targeted. Some were as young as three, Burney noted. “The children are kept in terrible conditions at the camps. They are fed one meal a day to keep their weight down, putting them at risk of malnutrition,” he added.
Burney maintained that most of the agents kidnapping the children were Pakistani. He said they could “easily get fake birth certificates, passports, and even fake parents, so that the Arab camel owners thought they were brought in with full consent”. Children are sold for as much as US $3,000. The UAE has banned the use of child jockeys, but camel racing is popular in the Gulf states, with the trade continuing unchecked.
The ABWTI rescued 49 children from camel farms in the UAE this year. “I try and visit camps at least once a month, but it is very difficult and very dangerous. I have had a lot of threats because of my work in trying to save the youngsters,” Burney said.
The recent death of six year-old Amir Abbas, who, Burney said, was taken to Abu Dhabi two years ago, has prompted publicity over the issue. Burney said Abbas’s father and five family members were tricked into going to the Gulf state with promises of a brighter future. The parents, thinking they were putting their son up for adoption, found out only weeks ago that he had been sold to the camel-racing trade, and was in hospital after a serious fall. The six year-old died earlier this month from horrific injuries. ABWTI is making arrangements for the boy’s burial in Pakistan, and for the family to be flown home. Official statistics on the number of Pakistani children killed as a result of the trade do not exist, with most cases going undetected.
Meanwhile, a report released on 25 May by the UN International Labour Organisation (ILO) warned that forced labour and human trafficking were on the rise worldwide, especially targeting women and children, and were assuming “new and insidious forms”.
The Islamabad branch of the ILO has launched a project to try to stem child trafficking in South Asia. It is working with governments to eradicate the practice, and has commitment from India, Bangladesh and Nepal, though as yet Pakistan has refrained from giving support. “The Pakistani government denied that children are being taken out of the country for such activities, so it won’t take part in the programme,” said Johannes Lokollo, ILO director for Pakistan. Lokollo expressed fears that the trade in Pakistan was on a huge scale.
Burney said he had received cooperation from authorities in the UAE, and planned to approach Pakistan’s Chief Executive, General Pervez Musharraf, for help in eliminating the illegal trade. “Kidnapping is banned in Pakistan, but, like many other illegal things in the country, this type of trade continues at the cost of innocent lives,” he added.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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