Camel law gives racegoers the hump

SOMETHING strange has happened at the Ned el-shibba racetrack in Dubai this season: the camels are running much more slowly. One even changed its mind halfway through a race and turned back.

An air of disappointment envelopes the wealthy Arabs in the grandstand and their camel managers driving along in Range Rovers, shouting instructions into their walkie- talkies. The slim, dark boys in their jockeys' white crash- helmets seem to hail from a different century from the frightened infants of last season. Some of them used to be as young as six. Their ear-piercing shrieks sent the camels into a slobbering panic, ensuring their completion of the race.

This season, the jockeys are heavier, older and less frightened, in order to comply with the United Arab Emirates' strict new law, passed in September, to protect the boys who traditionally come from destitute families all over the Indian subcontinent.

For the first time in 18 years, since the ancient Bedouin pastime of camel racing turned into an industry generating millions of dollars, the law specifies the minimum age, height and weight of the jockeys, who must also wear crash helmets. The changes were introduced in response to claims in the Western media by poverty-stricken Bangladeshi villagers that their children had been kidnapped by gangs and sold as camel jockeys.

In June, police in the UAE, India and Bangladesh joined forces to smash a ring trading in the child jockeys. The UAE government intervened last year when a group of jockeys beat to death a seven-year-old Bangladeshi rival, who they considered to be a threat to their livelihoods. The incident was described by some local health officials and Western diplomats as 'one of the worst examples of child exploitation and the barbaric treatment of young boys' by the managers and trainers.

Innovations over the past few years exacerbated the children's plight. For example, a camel will instinctively try to throw off its shrieking young rider - so the managers came up with the idea of attaching the boys to pads on the camels' backs with Velcro sewn into the seats of their pants; and radio receivers were pinned to the boys' chests through which the owners and trainers would shout advice in primitive Urdu during the race.

'Camel owners and trainers have no choice but to stick to the new rules,' said a Ministry of Health official. 'Tens of thousands of dollars of prize money are at stake if they are banned from racing.'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

Dropout generation failed by colleges

£800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

Homeless Veterans appeal

Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch