A Fate worse Than Death
[A word of caution: This article contains information concerning extreme inhuman brutality against children and serious breach of human rights. I am worried; this article may upset many readers. But every word of this article reveals truth and truth is sometimes very ugly. I have a great respect for the readers of FFI. Please forgive me if this article brings tears in your eyes and gives you a couple of sleepless nights lamenting over those innocent helpless little slaves in Islamic nations.
Please remember, hypothetically or by birth, if tomorrow Islam rules the world, neither your children nor my children will be safe. Let’s learn from the past and present, and plan for the future before it is too late. Thank you.]
In the Middle East, calling someone “Camel Jockey” is an insult. It means that the targeted person has very little or no education, defenseless and worth for nothing. Though this term is very often used there, many people who use them are sometimes unaware of the origin of this term, while others prefer to remain silent, because in Middle East, it is too risky to displease the oil rich Arab sheikhs who run the traditional royal sport of camel racing.
If we hunt for the origin of this term, another ugly face of Islam will be exposed, about which very less had been talked or written so far.
Slavery is nothing new in Islam. Muhammad, the so-called Prophet of Islam used to make an excellent regular profit from slave trade (Silas, 1998). The followers of Prophet Muhammad have continued this age old “Islamic” tradition till this time secretly in Middle East. In fact, slavery and Islam are so much consistent that they are inseparable with each other.
Brutal victimization of innocent children for the purpose of financial gain or simple pleasure is a shame on the name of humanity; but it is an “open secret” and daily phenomenon in Middle East where small children are regularly being forced to work as camel jockeys (Video links, 1 to 6).
Considerable research and media attention had been paid to various forms of child oppression in recent years throughout the world. In civilized countries, governments commit themselves to the protection of all the rights of the children – both socially and economically. In many countries the cost of education of children is taken over by central governments because it is universally believed by civilized world that every child has the right to an adequate education and standard of living (Donoghue, 1998). It also helps to protect the children from economic exploitation and work that may interfere with education or damage their health. Unfortunately, the Arab nations of Middle East region do not fall to that category. No matter what the civilized world thinks and does, the heavily rich but morally bankrupt Arab Sheikhs just give ‘two hoots’ to the basic rights of children. Mentally they still belong to the seventh century – the time and age of their Prophet; and unable to advance further.
Camel racing is a very popular sport in Middle East. Like horse racing in many countries, camel racing is an event for betting and tourist attraction. In some places where betting on the races are illegal; the winners receive many different prizes, many times in the form of luxury cars, mansions, yachts, cash and gold sword – this is just another form of gambling (Roger, 2003, Hejaz, 2002).
Race distances vary between 4 to 10 kilometers and may include anywhere from 15 to 70 camels or more (Hejaz, 2002). The Sheikhs of the UAE invest large sums of money into the development of camel racing throughout the Emirates, in addition to putting cash into the buying and training of camels in order to participate themselves in the races. Their interest and dedication is so much that they appoint specialists from all over the world with the primary goal of improving racing camel performance. The camels are of specialized breed for this purpose (Anon, 2006). These animals are not treated like animals and are well-nourished, well trained, taken good care of and are very costly. Their harts are often air-conditioned. Sheikh Mohammed, the whimsical crown prince of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates Minister of Defense even constructed a pool for his camels (Selby, 2004).
Then, what about the jockeys?
The little kids, who are used as jockeys are strapped into their saddles to keep them from slipping off the charging camels. Sometimes Velcro or adhesive tapes are used as an alternative (Voice of America, 2005). One of the ‘advantages’ of using child jockeys is that their terrified painful cries make the camels run even faster. Accidents are very frequent when the camels approach speeds of up to 40 kilometers an hour. Every now and then the kids fall off the camels and the camels run over their bodies. No wonder every second or third child is seen with a broken arm or broken leg (ABWT, 2004). It is a living hell for the children. These tiny slaves, working and dying for the pleasures of rich Arab Sheikhs are sometimes as young as two (Wikipedia, 2006). They face a fate which is worse than death.
(The left side picture shows a kid is being helped to mount the camel. There is no guaranty, that the child will be alive at the end of the sport. The right side picture indicates the rigorous training in the scorching heat of the desert. These photographs were taken during 2004 at the Nad Al Sheba racecourse in Dubai)
These children have to undergo a rigorous training schedule. It means working for about eighteen hours a day without payment. There is no holiday for them. Most jockeys only have a sheet on the sand for a bed and basic shelter. They have to work seven days a week in heats that even the local people shelter from (ABWT, 2004). Those who fall asleep are given electric shocks (in local language, this is called – giving a “KARBA”) as a wake up call (ABWT, 2005, Video Link 5). If they are tired and unable to carry out the orders of the trainer, they are tied in chains and mercilessly beaten. Often, if they cry for their parents, they are tied up by the wrists with their feet dangling in the air and their tender bodies are kicked as a punishment, (Selby, 2004). The rescued children reported many stories of cruelty, as example, being tied up in chains in the desert heat, beaten with metal rods and leather whips, cut with blades and being raped by their “owners” (ABWT, 2005). Other punishments include couple of days without food. They are often told by their trainers a story about being unwanted and being sold by their parents into slavery. They have no legal status and no one to protect them.
One nine year old rescued boy described that every week he used to see by his own eyes the deaths of about 20 children, and more than a dozen injured. He said “There was this one kid whose strap broke at the beginning of the race. His head was crushed between the legs of the running camel. Once the race has started it cannot stop” (ABWT, 2005).
They are deliberately starved to prevent weight gain. Many of these children are fed with only two dry biscuits, or half dirty bread a day with water just to keep body and soul together (Selby, 2004). Some of them are not even that lucky. To reduce body weight, the owners often force the kids to wear metal helmets and leave them under the boiling heat of the desert so that they bleed through their noses and lose their body weight. Another method of keeping them underweight is to force them to eat dirty and unhygienic food with seawater. The hope is that an upset stomach will stop the child from feeling hungry (ABWT, 2005). This saves the cost of the food and also keeps the kid underweight. Many of these children, who cannot tolerate this torture just collapse and die.
(The barefoot child camel jockey in the above picture is begging for water at a racing track in Dubai. He had been deliberately left tied under the hot sun with helmet, so that he bleeds through nose and thus reduces weight. During summer the temperature goes well above 50oC (Asia Child Rights, 2004). Photo source: Ansar Burney Trust, 2004)
Then, what type of nutrition the camels get?
Well, nobody can accuse these rich Arabs for cruelty against animals. They are too kind for the racing camels and leave no stone unturned to bring nutritional specialists from all over the world at any cost, and to run the camel feed mills to create well-balanced and highly nutritional diets. High fiber diets, including oats and barley in addition to vitamin supplements and trace elements, are standard for racing camels (Anon, 2006). The feeding and dieting programme is modified from time to time with expert’s opinion and new developments of dietary science.
Most of these ill-fated children are trafficked from countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sudan — countries bound together by poverty and corruption (dpa, 2000). Many of them are not just abducted or trafficked victims. They are sold away by their parents in exchange of money. Many orphans are sold by the relatives. Many of them are kidnapped from affluent families. One day the child goes outside to play and never returns back home.
Due to better awareness of the issue, internet and lobbying by human rights associations such as the Ansar Burney Welfare Trust – the use of children in this dirty sport is prohibited in Arab countries by law. But secretly this traditional slave business of Islam is still continued in the remote areas and during special night time races with selected viewers. It is impossible to enforce the law strictly, because, generally who own the camels also are the head of the states and also due to high corruption. In Arab countries, the law serves the elite classes and turns a blind eye to their wrong actions.
These slaves hardly receive any medical treatment. Arabs are reluctant to spend money on the slaves. The lives of these slaves have got no value for them. There is enough supply of children from poor countries. It is cheaper for these oil rich sheikhs to buy a slave than to spend on medical treatment. Those who are dead are silently buried in deserts and are never spoken about (Wikipedia, 2006). Their graves are unmarked and hence remain unknown to the outside world. On the other hand, there are special animal hospitals for these racing camels where no expense is spared. The camels undergo regular medical check-up.
Continuous physical and mental torture ultimately leaves the child in such a pathetic condition where he is unable to live outside the camp. Their all contact outside the camel farm is deliberately broken. As the children are isolated from their families and find themselves in an unfamiliar culture, they are totally at the mercy of their masters for survival. Some of these victims even forget the country of their birth and stop speaking their mother tongue (Asia Child Rights, 2004).
They live in camps encircled with pointed wire near the racetracks so that it is not easy for them to escape (Wikipedia, 2006). In fact after so much physical and mental torture, hardly any strength or courage is left for them to give it a try to run away. But still some of these slaves try to escape from this living hell with a hope to rewrite their destiny. If unsuccessful and caught, they are often killed mercilessly to set a cautionary example to others. In one incident, the owner of a slave deliberately ran over the disobedient slave in his truck to teach him a lesson (Wikipedia, 2006).
So, this is the pathetic story of those innocent victims, which instigated the use of the term – “Camel Jockeys”. Camel racing is a popular sport in many other countries like India and Australia. But the use of children is ever unheard of outside Middle East. Still nobody knows how many dead bodies are buried silently and secretly in the deserts every year. There is no accurate estimation or statistics, leave aside official documentation of death and injury. The bitter lamentation of a child does not leave any mark to the minds of their masters. It ends when the little child dies and goes to his grave well before his time. Graves are never marked. After all it is the religious duty of a true Muslim to hide the ugly face of Islam at any costs.
Presently some positive steps had been taken by the governments of the civilized nations and NGOs to stop this age-old Islamic tradition of slavery. But the success is very limited. Ansar Burney Trust is one amongst the NGOs, who had successfully established a shelter home at Abu Dhabi for the rescued children from UAE. The rescued children are first taught how to live outside a camel farm. By 2005, about 800 children have been sent back to their home countries (Wikipedia, 2006). The trust was founded by Ansar Burney, a lawyer and human rights activist. Initially, the Trust received nothing but opposition from locals, government officials (in the Middle East) and most surprisingly even from the Pakistani government. Probably the reason is that, most of the children are trafficked from Pakistan (Hammond, 2005).
The use of children in the camel races has been illegal in the UAE since 1993 (Selby, 2004). But Burney estimated that, by the end of 2005, there were as many as 20,000 children still working as camel jockeys in the Middle East – up to 5,000 of them working in the UAE alone (Hammond, 2005). A different source puts the number as high as 40,000. Real number is unknown, because there are many night races with selected viewers which are conducted in secrecy (Voice of America, 2005, Asia Child Rights, 2004).
Till this date, this slave tradition is continued in full force. Just a couple of months ago, Ansar managed to get a television camera into the camel racing tracks. In the track, there were many extremely small boys suited up looking ready to ride. The camera was hurriedly confronted by security and the children were taken away. Camel racing is supported by the highest levels of UAE society. As example, President Zayed owns a personal stable consisting of about 14,000 camels and 9,000 workers for their upkeep as a stable-boy (Anon, 2006). The family of crown prince of UAE Sheikh Mohammed (as per local newspapers, he is whimsical and ridiculously rich), possesses 2,000 camels, which gives very high performance on the racetracks (Anon, 2006). Sheikh regularly visits those race tracks and aware of everything, but pretends innocent in front of the journalists and once denied an interview to the Lexington Herald Leader on this serious issue.
Though this practice is prohibited by law, but the law remains in the book only and cannot touch the oil-rich Arabs and the ruling party. It is unbelievable but true that in Middle East, the court of law is a personal playground for the elite classes for having fun.
Presently in some races robot jockeys are used in Qatar and UAE. These robots are remote-controlled by camel trainers who follow the camels in cars. The robots can use whips and can shout to the camels also (Wikipedia, 2006). But again, the Arabs do not want to spend on the robots. The cost of robot jockey is about 5,500 US $, whereas, a child jockey can be purchased with an amount as low as 300 US$ (Wikipedia, 2006). Hence why to spend more? What is the value of life in Islam?
As a conclusion, it can be said confidently that the exploitation of children in camel races is not going to stop in the near future. There are three strong reasons behind it. Firstly, it is a royal sport conducted by the ruling people of Middle East, whom no law can touch. Secondly, there is an ample supply of children from the poorer Islamic countries like, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sudan. In fact many children who had been rescued and been sent home by Ansar Burney Trust were again found re-sold to this slavery by their own parents and relatives (ABWT, 2005). Ansar in one of his interview reported that one Pakistani father sold his own son to purchase alcohol. In another case, one mother sold her first three sons in hope of work and money (ABWT, 2005). The Constitution of Pakistan, Article 11 (3) says – No child below the age of 14 years shall be engaged in any factory or mine or any other hazardous employment. The third reason is the most dangerous one – slavery is religiously allowed in Islam and Islam does not recognize the basic rights of children. Here, it’s worth mentioning the superb Islamic remark of Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini said “A man can have sexual pleasure from a child as young as a baby” ( Paz-2006).
Unless Muslims come out of illiteracy, poverty and darkness of Islamic superstition; slavery cannot be stopped. The irony of the situation is that the Islamic god Allah approves slavery; and still he is called all merciful. Then how slavery can be stopped as long as Muslims follow the guidelines set by Allah and his messenger Prophet Muhammad? No wonder, Ali Sina often asks a question – How much stupidity is enough? Strong pressure from the human rights association can reduce slavery but nothing better than that can be achieved. Slavery will take one form or another; but it is going to stay, because Islam can never reform. The naked truth is that slavery will not stop unless Muslims come out of Islam (I am sure, that day is not far away) and dump the whole doctrine of Islam in a garbage can. I don’t mind, if Muslims label me as a hopeless pessimist, curse me in the name of their God and threaten me of Allah’s hellfire, but from the very deep bottom of their hearts they know that I am not a liar.
Till that time nobody knows how many more innocent children will lose their golden childhood days, sleep forever in their grave before they know the world or live rest of their lives in a physically and mentally handicapped condition — all for the pleasure of some oil-rich Arab Sheikhs of Middle East who are following the true tradition of Islam.
• Asia Child Rights, 24th November, 2004 – A Comprehensive Portal on Child Rights in Asia from AHRC, Child Jockeys: 40,000 children on slave labour as ‘child camel jockeys’ in Middle East and Arab countries,