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It is perhaps the most pernicious of evils. The words “child slavery” would cause most people nowadays to recoil in horror, but in the oil-rich countries of the Saudi Arabian Peninsula, it apparently still doesn’t.
The most recent and revolting incident shedding light on the continued existence of this murky and most heinous of crimes involves a thirty-five-year-old Pakistani mother who bravely refused to sell her two boys to a slaver in Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates. But this heroine, whose name, Azim Mai, deserves to be mentioned, paid a high price for her courageous stand. Her husband, angry at her refusal to condemn her sons to such a cruel fate, threw acid in Mai’s face, seriously disfiguring her.
But there are still many other parents among Pakistan’s large, poverty-stricken population willing to sell their male offspring into the Persian Gulf. Boys as young as three are bought from poor parents, and sometimes simply kidnapped from the street, principally in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and sent as slaves to these oil-rich states for one purpose only: to win camel races for their new Arab masters. The boys are expected to do this after being trained as riders under very brutal conditions for what is a very popular sport in that region.
“As many as 6,000 camel jockeys …languished in hidden slavery on ouzbah farms where their masters beat them and starved them to keep their weight down,” wrote E. Benjamin Skinner in his book, A Crime So Monstrous, before the use of boy camel jockeys was officially banned due to international pressure in 2005. A 2004 documentary about the boys’ plight, shown on HBO, was chiefly responsible for making Americans aware of this modern-day barbarism.
Great fanfare was made at the time about replacing the child jockeys with robots. But humanitarian organizations, like the Ansar Burney Trust, never believed all racing camel owners stopped using slave boy jockeys after abolition. Such a law, they say, would never affect the rich and powerful in the Emirates, especially members of the different Gulf royal families. The races, in which children are still made to ride, simply went underground.
As evidence, the Ansar Burney Trust cites the fact that of the estimated 6,000 camel jockeys at the time of the so-called abolition, one thousand are still missing. And even then, some of the ones repatriated back to their countries were resold and resent to the Persian Gulf to race camels again, while still others wound up in the madrassas of Islamic extremist organizations in their home countries.
The unfortunate boys kept on an “ousbah,” an isolated camel farm, are caught up in a nightmare of hellish proportions. After experiencing the trauma of suddenly being separated from their families, they are made to work 18-hour days. A camel jockey-in-training is also starved, beaten and sometimes sexually abused. Serious injury, even death, is a fate that also awaits many of the child riders, some as young as five, when training or racing over distances between four and 10 kilometres atop of 800-900 pound animals that can run as fast as 40 miles per hour. Even if the rider does not fall, damaged genitals is one of the serious wounds the slave boys often suffer.
“They used to wake us at two or three in the morning. If we didn’t get up or thought we were lazy, they would beat us with sticks,” one former child camel jockey told a British newspaper. “We had to clean up the camel dung with our hands.”
Another boy, Zufiqar, 10, said that race day represented the worst time due to the injuries and deaths he saw the camel jockeys suffer when thrown from their fast-moving mounts. And if the camel was also injured, Zufiqar stated “They always look after the camel first.” The reason for this is that the camel may have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars while the slave boy may only have cost a few hundred. Also for this reason, there are camel hospitals, and a Dubai prince was reported by an American paper to even have a swimming pool for his racing camels.
Along with the boys, young girls from South Asia and other impoverished countries are also trafficked to the Arabian Peninsula but for the sinister purpose of sexual exploitation. In the book Princess Sultana’s Circle, a sensitive and modern-thinking princess of the Saudi royal family gave American authoress Jean Sasson damning testimony concerning this evil.
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