Acknowledging that an international solution was the only effective way to protect former camel jockeys, the governments of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan and Mauritania commended an agreement signed by the UAE and Unicef to launch the second and expanded phase of their programme. Under the agreement signed in Abu Dhabi on April 23 the UAE-Unicef Programme will now continue until May 2009.
Each of the represented nations affirmed their commitment in a joint statement.
"This is an historic moment for the protection of children and underscores the commitment of the UAE to elevate and defend human rights," said UAE Interior Minister Lt-Gen. Shaikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan. "Representatives of these countries are signing the Abu Dhabi Mission Statement Declaration in order to facilitate support and services to children previously involved in camel racing, a goal that we believe can only be accomplished with transparency and through public treaties."
The Abu Dhabi conference, organised jointly by Unicef and the UAE Interior Ministry, was held from April 23 to 25. The conference was a sequel to efforts launched on May 7, 2005, when the UAE government and Unicef signed a ground-breaking agreement to return children formerly employed in camel racing to their countries of origin and reintegrate them into their communities. Under the programme, more than 1,077 children received services at community centres and were repatriated to their home countries. Unicef hailed the programme as a model for the region. Dr. Omar Abdi, Unicef Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, stated, "Our earnest appreciation goes to the visionary leaders of UAE who made this project a long-term promise of protection and development for all affected children."
Dr Abdi reiterated his call for action by proposing to "build on the momentum generated thus far and ensure that success does not breed complacency. To achieve this, we need a renewed commitment by all to enhance collaboration and coordination for continued results."
The UAE-Unicef programme is the first one in the Gulf region to publicly acknowledge the issues of child exploitation in camel racing, and to have taken practical steps to protect children. The agreement complements ongoing efforts of the UAE government to keep all underage children out of camel racing, and to strengthen measures to prevent their exploitation.
The UAE has committed full funding for the second phase of the programme, which is intended to help not only those repatriated under phase one, but also those who returned to their countries outside the programme.
It was also agreed at the conference to establish, with consultation and technical advice of Unicef, an independent claims facility to hear and adjudicate individual injury claims by children formerly involved in camel racing.Dr Fayza Asghar, chairperson, Child Protection and Welfare Bureau in Pakistan, declared, "We highly appreciate and thank the UAE government for implementing all appropriate steps for abolishing the practice of using children as camel jockeys."
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