The subcontinent’s kids end up victims of a traditional Arab practice
It’s camel racing season again in the sultanates and emirates of the Gulf. Camel racing, like falconry and bustard-hunting, is a traditional Arab custom. Unfortunately, for hundreds of kids from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, this means kidnapping, slavery and forced labour, with scarcely any serious protest from their own governments.
The camel races patronised by Arab sheiks for centuries thrives on underage, lightweight child jockeys who are often tied to the animal and their shrieks of terror pace them faster, and this has often resulted in the death of children from falls or fear.
While immigrations intercepted one Bangladesh party of eight children trying to sneak into Pakistan at the Jaisalmer frontier, it is feared there may be at least seventy Indian child participants in the races, with four-hundred-and-ten more from Bangladesh and the rest from Pakistan, and Interpol says the total child jockeys could number five thousand and more.
The six GCC countries notorious for these races are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the UAE, and Bahrain, and in the present smuggling of children, all were flown out of a third country, Indian children taken to Bangladesh or Pakistan, the Pakistanis going to Bangladesh via India, or the opposite way, and officials say the children were sold to slavery for between $2,000-5,000.
Children between two to five are often kidnapped or sold by their parents to slavery, and child jockeys typically train for eighteen hours with race camels, often from five am, and to keep their weights low, they are fed poorly, denied food before races, and beaten regularly, while escape attempts are severely put down, resulting in death in several cases or permanent handicaps. [News Insight]
The current low-key approach to this problem seems to be to intercept child-traffickers before they get out of the country. Evidently, that is not working too well. Furthermore, mutual suspicion and poor coordination among law-and-order agencies of the subcontinent makes the job of the child-traffickers all the more easier. As the only multilateral regional grouping in South Asia, it falls on SAARC to evolve a common approach to combat kidnapping and trade in child slaves.
But tackling the supply-side alone will be insufficient — there needs to be greater pressure on the demand side to curb this appalling crime. Pakistan and Bangladesh are nakedly servile when it comes to kow-towing to the Gulf governments, while India cloaks its obsequiousness in the jumbo of political correctness and faux realpolitik. What is SAARC for, then? How about putting that ‘regional cooperation’ rhetoric was put to some practical use?