Child Slavery and the Practice of Camel Jockeying in Muslim Countries


The International Labor Organization defines child labor as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical, social and mental development or morally dangerous and harmful to children. Many trafficked children are separated from their family or home community.” UNICEF estimates that 85 million children, or 10.5% of the world’s child population, are indentured in some form of servitude or child labor. According to the Maplecroft Child Labor Index, the worst countries for child trafficking and labor are predominantly Muslim, aside from Burundi and Myanmar. The ten countries are as follows:

  1. Eritrea
  2. Somalia
  3. DR Congo
  4. Myanmar
  5. Sudan
  6. Afghanistan
  7. Pakistan
  8. Yemen
  9. Burundi
  10. Nigeria

UNICEF reports that child labor has been on the decline worldwide since the year 2000, but is on the rise in six countries: Eritrea, Somalia, North Korea, Myanmar, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan.

One of the more dangerous types of child labor comes in the form of camel jockeying. Camel racing originated from the Bedouin culture (also known as “tent culture”) and is practiced in Arab Persian Gulf Coast countries today. Races feature riders going between 40-65 km/hr around 10 km race track and using only one hand. As with all jockeying, the lighter the racer is, the more successful the animal will be. Therefore, children are highly coveted. The U.S. Dept. of State found that, “Each year, children as young as 2 are trafficked from countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sudan for use as jockeys in the Persian Gulf States. Youngsters had been killed or hurt, suffered head and spinal injuries and damaged genitals. Child camel jockeys are often sexually and physically abused; most are physically and mentally stunted, as they are deliberately starved to prevent weight gain.” The report also noted that almost all child jockeys live in “camps encircled with barbed wire near the racetracks.”

The children who are lucky enough to be rescued from camel jockeying were predominantly trafficked from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan. Perhaps the most tragic part of the child jockeying industry is that many of the children who are rescued were kidnapped when they were so young that they do not know who their parents are or what country they were taken from. Others were sold into slavery by their own parents, and cannot be returned home because their parents would simply resell them in a similar industry and the child would once again be a victim of human trafficking. Consequently, they often live in shelter homes until they are old enough to live on their own. The State Dept. found that:

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“In December 2004 [when the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) outlawed child jockeying] the U.A.E. established a shelter to care for former child camel jockey victims. Many boys served by the shelter have been trampled, suffer from broken limbs and have never seen a doctor. As many as 400 children were reportedly rescued and repatriated through efforts of source country representatives and NGOs in 2004.”

Before the ban, there were up to 3,000 child jockeys in the UAE, “but only about 1,000 were returned home under a repatriation agenda” according to Catherine Turner, a child labour expert at Anti-Slavery International. She took pictures of the child jockeys in the UAE who were out in the “open” and stated that police and dignitaries were in the audience, and child labor is not being taken seriously.

One reason that dignitaries and police in the crowd were not concerned with the forced servitude of children is because child labor is allowed in Islam.

In December 2016, the article, “Child Labor: An Islamic Perspective,” was published by Abu Talib Mohammad Monawer and Dewan Mahboob Hossain, from the University of Malaya, Malaysia and the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, respectively.  The authors note that “when child labour is applied in business organizations, Islamic ethical principles can be followed.”

The authors go on to note:

“Islam allows child labour which is termed as “tashghil” as long as it is in line with the teachings and principles of Islam. Several prophetic traditions support this ruling. An Authentic hadith is reported by Muslim and narrated from Anas bin Malik (May Allah be pleased with him). Anas bin Malik said: Once the Messenger of Allah (the Prophet) came to me while I was playing with the boys. He greeted us and sent me on an errand. (Sahih Muslim, Book 2, Hadith 8).

Another authentic hadith is reported by Bukhari and narrated by Anas. Anas bin Malik said: Whenever the Prophet (peace be upon him) went to the privy, a servant and I used to carry a skin water container and a spear and he would cleanse himself with the water (Sahih Muslim, Book 2, Hadith 87).

These references from Hadith prove that the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to assign the children some works.” 

Camel jockeying is not the only form of child labor taking place in Muslim countries today, although it may be the most underreported. If you are disturbed with the practice and wish for the United States to take action against this egregious practice, contacting your local congressman or Senator is a constructive place to start.

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