Monday, July 30, 2012

C is for Camel Racing

Yes, it's a real sport. There's also camel wrestling, but that's a camel-on-camel sport. All the humans do is place bets.
Camel racing is an entirely different matter. They won't race without a jockey urging them on. Lighter rider, faster camel.
That's why most trainers use children. Not just teenagers, but kids. Some are young as four.

And these aren't local village boys who want to play with the big animals. Most of them are trafficked from countries like Sudan, Ethiopia, Afgahnistan, Iran, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Many of these children, some young as six months, were sold by their parents for money or employment. Others are kidnapped. Estimates say there anywhere from 5,000 to 40,000 child jockeys in the Persian Gulf States.
They'll work up to 17 hours a day, both racing and slave labor. During races they'll fall down often and get injured badly. Nobody takes them to the hospital because they'd have to admit to illegally  keeping underaged jockeys. The results: no medical treatment. Prolonged pain. Sometimes death.
The boys are always roped or velcroed to their mounts, but even then they can bounce off and get trampled or dragged.
If they scream at the start of the race, the trainers take that as a good sign. It'll push the camels on.
Many boys carry radios so the trainers can tell them when to swing the riding crop.
The United Arab Emirates placed a ban on using boys under 15, but that's broken all the time. They even televise races with young children.
A few rehabilitation centers have been created for freed former jockeys. They provide healthcare and education to prepare the boys for better lives. Not an easy task. Most of the boys can't remember living outside of the camel camps. They don't know how to use the basic things you use everyday by afternoon. Bathtubs. Toilets. Cupboards. They don't even know how to sleep in beds.

Reuniting some of these boys with their families is impossible. Because they're taken as such young ages, many don't know their parents names and can't speak their native languages.
 Child trafficking is alive and rampant all over the world. Every year, tourists can come to gawk at those little kids on those huge beasts, and then go home and forget all about it.

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