ABU DHABI — The UAE is implementing stringent measures to eradicate, once and for all, the use of children as jockeys.
The Emirates Camel Racing Federation (ECRF) is spearheading the country’s efforts to crack down against the use of children as jockeys, a practice banned officially by the UAE since the year 2002.
While the ECRF is acting on the orders of the President, His Highness Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the implementation of the ban is being closely followed up by General Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
The UAE was the first to ban the use of children under 15 as jockeys in the popular local sport of camel-racing when Shaikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs announced the ban on July 29, 2002. Announcing the ban, Shaikh Hamdan made it crystal-clear that 'no-one would be permitted to ride camels in camel-races unless they had a minimum weight of 45 kg, and are not less than 15 years old, as stated in their passports.' He said a medical committee would examine each candidate to be a jockey to check that the age stated in their passport was correct and that the candidate was medically fit.
Shaikh Hamdan said all owners of camel racing stables would be responsible for returning children under 15 to their home countries. He also announced the introduction of a series of penalties for those breaking the new rules. For a first offence, a fine of Dh20,000 was to be imposed. For a second offence, the offender would be banned from participating in camel races for a period of a year, while for third and subsequent offences, terms of imprisonment would be imposed.
Shaikh Hamdan, who is also Chairman of ECRF, made it clear that the UAE Ministry of Interior had been assigned the task of implementing the new rules, in association with the local municipalities in each of the UAE’ s seven emirates, while the country’s airports and seaports had been notified to ensure that no child whose age is below 15 and is suspected of being brought to the country to be employed as a camel jockey is admitted.
UAE's move to ban children as jockeys drew commendations from the Unicef.
In a letter to Shaikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Unicef representative for the Gulf area, Stefan Toma, wrote: 'The United Arab Emirates has always been one of the pioneering states in the Gulf in the field of social development. We at Unicef are very pleased to see that the UAE is taking such an important step on an important regional issue of child exploitation.'
In response to Toma’s letter , Shaikh Hamdan assured the Unicef official that a federal legislation to this effect would be issued on March 31, 2005. And on March 14, 2005, Shaikh Hamdan announced that jockeys under 16 years of age would be banned from competing in camel races held in the country with effect from March 31, 2005. Following the issuance of the law, General Shaikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Interior, ordered implementation of the ban with immediate effect.