April 2, 2004

Children travelling abroad tightly scrutinized

In a March 2006 report submitted to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, it was reported that in April 2004, the Sudanese Minister for Internal Affairs stated that children must travel in accordance with the laws and regulations in force and that children must be prevented from travelling to take up work in camel racing.

Special efforts were made to carefully screen travellers with children, especially if they were going to an Arab country, and if the passport holders were from a tribe known for camel racing [presumably Beja and Rashaida [Rashayidah] tribes.]

Technological advances have eliminated the need for actual children to act as jockeys, so the situation has changed significantly since 2005.

Camel racing is big business in the gulf countries such as Qatar and United Arab Emirates. Purses can run up to $190,000 per race. They may take place at weddings or other celebrations. Races may be 15 km long, and camels can run at about 50 km [30 miles] per hour. The smaller the jockey, the less weight the camel needs to carry, the faster it can run. Thousands of children have been brought into these countries to be camel jockeys.

Living conditions for child jockeys are poor. They may be underfed, so they remain small, but this can delay their mental and physical development. Hosts might not provide education, and not pay wages owed. Children may be beaten or sexually abused.

Camel racing is an ancient sport but only since the 1980's has it really grown. But public pressure has caused host countries to reduce their exploitation of children. The introduction of robot jockeys in 2004-2006 has essentially eliminated the need for child jockeys. In 2005 hundreds of children were repaitriated to countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sudan with the assistance of the United Nations. Sudanese racers came mostly from the Rashaida tribe, since they have connections in Arabian countries. Historically, the Rashaida people immigrated from Saudi Arabia in the 1800's. They are nomadic like the Beja, but they acknowledge the Beja's prior claim to the land in the Red Sea Hills. Using traditional rules, they offer a token payment to Beja tribes for using their land.

In June 2005, workshops were held in Kassala to help government officials to reintegrate children who were returning from the Emirates. Unicef records show that over 1,000 camel racing children were repatriated to all countries from the UAE. The UAE implemented a law in July 2005 that made child jockeys illegal. Rashaida tribe members successfully reunited returning children with their families.