Qatar bans child jockeys in camel races
DOHA: Qatar said on Wednesday it was banning the use of children as jockeys in camel races, a favourite sport in the oil-rich Gulf region that has been widely criticised over the use of children brought from southern Asia, including Pakistan.
The move, announced after a cabinet meeting, follows an announcement by Doha that it was preparing to substitute robots for jockeys from next year.
The cabinet “agreed to take the required measures to ban the bringing, hiring and training of children in camel races,” said a statement carried by the official QNA news agency.
It did not specify the age under which children would be excluded from the sport, but a Qatari official said earlier this year that a bill was being drafted that would ban hiring people under 18.
The president of the organising committee of camel races in the gas-rich Gulf Arab state, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Faisal al-Thani, hailed the government’s move as “a sound decision ... especially as we are in the last phase of readying the robot-jockey”. The decision was in line with “Qatar’s moves to entrench a culture of human rights,” he told AFP.
Sheikh Hamad told AFP in October that the robot was being developed by a Swiss company and would be ready in 2005. Property rights for the robot have since been registered for Qatar.
Sheikh Hamad announced last March that robot-jockeys had been used in a camel race for the first time. Gulf Arab monarchies are trying to bring order to the national sport in the face of protests over the trafficking of young children from the subcontinent as jockeys.
The US State Department and human rights groups have raised the alarm over the exploitation of children by traffickers who pay impoverished parents a paltry sum or simply kidnap their victims. The children, mostly from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, are then smuggled into the oil-rich Gulf states.
They are often starved by employers to keep them light and maximise their racing potential. Mounting camels three times their height, the children - some as young as six - face the risk of being thrown off and trampled.
According to sketches of the robot circulated by officials in the organising committee, the final version of the robot will be much more advanced than the one used on a trial basis earlier this year.
One of the sketches shows a human-shaped robot in the saddle, while another features a remote control device to command the “jockey” to make hand movements to direct the camel. afp