07/11/2006, 00.00
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Emirates anti-slavery law throws camel races into crisis

In this sport, a favourite among Bedouins, children, often kidnapped or sold by poor families, are forced to be jockeys in the races.

Abu Dhabi (AsiaNews) – A hard blow has been dealt enthusiasts of camel races, a favourite sport among Bedouins. A bill of law approved by the government of the United Arab Emirates says human trafficking and slavery will be punishable by life imprisonment, and it offers special protection to children, often used as jockeys in camel races.

In the draft law – which Al Jazeera predicts will be quickly approved – "human trafficking is defined to include all forms of sexual exploitation, involuntary servitude, enslaving, slave trading and all similar practices". Life imprisonment will be meted out for crimes against women, children and people with disabilities or in cases of crimes by the victim's guardian.

The Emirates, together with Qatar and Kuwait, were elevated last month from the lowest rank – Tier 3 – of human trafficking offenders in the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons report. Saudi Arabia is the only remaining country in the region in Tier 3.

Last year, the Emirates came under fire for using minors aged 18 years in camel races, a practice internationally condemned as a form of slavery. Human rights groups claimed that thousands of children, some as young as four, were used a jockeys. The children, mainly from poor Asian and African countries, had been abducted or sold by their families, and were kept in prison-like conditions and underfed so they would be light and camels could run faster.

The human rights groups accused oil-producing country of turning a blind eye to the non-payment of wages, lack of medical care and sub-standard housing for workers who form the backbone of an economy thriving on high oil prices.

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