By Neeraj Gangal
'Traditional event should not be confused with commercial camel racing' - UAE embassy.
The UAE embassy in London issued a statement to clarify media reports of "underage" camel jockeys in the UAE, according to a WAM report on Thursday.
"The UAE reiterates that it considers the use of underage children for commercial camel racing to be exploitative. The UAE banned the use of child jockeys in commercial camel racing in 2002 and is committed to enforcing that ban. The ban was designed to put an end to the misuse of foreign-born children as jockeys specifically in commercial camel racing. This practice has now been eradicated and any violation will be prosecuted," the embassy statement said.
However, it remains lawful for Emirati children to ride camels and to take part in some traditional amateur events, it added.
British media reports this week had referred to the Sweihan festival in Abu Dhabi, which includes a number of activities and events highlighting traditional Bedouin culture. The festival is equivalent to a British country show and includes bi-annual camel races for different age groups.
"Such races are ,however, governed by strict guidelines and conditions, which include the participation of UAE nationals only, the consent of parents where children are involved, expert supervision, adherence to safety measures, and the presence of medical back-up teams, among others. This traditional event should not be confused with commercial camel racing, where the government has prohibited the use of children as jockeys," the statement said.
Riding camels remains an important part of Emirati culture, and continues to be enjoyed by adults and children.
Since the 2002 ban, the UAE government has contributed AED40m towards repatriation efforts of former child jockeys.
This has involved 26 social and economic projects including: establishing transit centres providing medical assistance and other services to affected children, a family tracing system, social care for children, and educational campaigns and establishment of community care committees.
Further, there were specific programmes focusing on the establishment of monitoring mechanisms to prevent children formerly involved in camel racing from re-entering hazardous or exploitative labour.
Simultaneously, an awareness-raising campaign was also carried out with camel owners in the UAE, the embassy added.