Qatar Camel Jockeys left disabled
The risk of serious injury, disability and death is shockingly high among child jockeys in camel races in Gulf countries, a report shows. Researchers in Qatar looked at 275 boys, many younger than nine and some as young as five, treated for camel racing injuries at a local hospital. Seventeen of the boys treated between 1992-’03 were left with permanent disabilities and 3 died.
This disturbing report struck a chord in me, as last year I got a chance to meet the young jockeys in Doha and converse with them. I’m glad a number of Gulf countries made the decision to ban the use of camel jockeys for good, replacing them with robots. The question now is: Will camel racing still attract as many enthusiasts when child jockey are no longer a part of it? [All images from that trip enlarge on click]
Because of our tight time table, we were only able to sit for one documentary in the Alajzeeara documentary festival. The one we saw was a Radio Canada production entitled: Maher Arar, detailing the story of a Canadian/Syrian citizen who was arrested and deported to Syira on suspicion of belonging to al-Qaeda. Unfortunatley the film was absolutely crap. Technically, it was very poor and the content was sensationalist, unbalanced and lacked any real deep research. I hated it!
Nevertheless, the outing itself had a wonderful upside, as we were sitting one row in front of famous Egyptian actor Nour Al Sharif. I got really excited when I saw him sitting right behind us so I jumped up from my seat and asked if I could take a picture with him. He was very sweet and extremely down-to-earth. We even shared the same popcorn while waiting for the movie to start. I think I should write this down: I munched on popcorn with Nour al-Sharif. Here is a picture taken via Amal and her Nokia mobile.
Aljazeera’s documentary film festival might be one of the most exciting things that happens in Doha. Documentaries from across the world are being shown here and it is all gratis. Instead of making sure to watch every single one of them, I’m home blogging about the event from far way.
Life has been very hectic lately for us, for reasons that I will explain in a future post. Time is not on our side. We are struggling to finish a very long list of things to do before the end of this month, which will mark the end of our Doha stint here. I will reveal more details in an upcoming post, I promise.
I found this in the Gulf Times today:
Heavy penalties are expected to be imposed on the violators of the new law prohibiting the use of child jockeys in camel races, said Dr Ghalia bint Mohamed bin Hamad al-Thani, member of UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
The warning is intended to deter any possible offences at "private" races. Dr Ghalia told reporters yesterday that the new regulation banning child jockeys had stemmed out of Qatar’s respect to the children’s basic rights, saying that she played a role in drafting the law, putting an end to the use of child jockeys in Qatar.
I guess this explains why the officials at the camel race freaked out when we took pictures of the jockeys last week.
Yesterday was a unique day. We, along with Amal, our partner-in-crime, and friend Ranjit headed to a Qatar camel race in al-Shahnniya, some 40 km outside Doha. What we saw and experienced there was quite memorable.
When we first arrived at the racing complex, we were a bit early so we wandered about and ran into some of the camel jockeys. I was shocked to see how young and tiny they were. Mostly they were Sudanese and between maybe 7-10 years old. We talked with them and took some pictures. But then things started getting tense. Some organizers or security for the facility approached us and asked us — quite angrily — not to talk with the jockeys or take pictures of them. They were very tense and kept following us around to make sure we didn’t come near the jockeys.
My analysis is that since Qatar recently banned camel jockeys and is now working on robots to replace the young kids (now being copied in the UAE), officials are feeling uneasy about giving the kids any extensive exposure, especially this being their last season. It might reflect badly on the Gulf state of Qatar since it has now been established that the use of child camel jockeys is really a form of child abuse.
After the encounter with the officials, we drove around and found ourselves in a huge camel market. I have to confess, I had never seen so many camels in one place in my life. Jeff and Ranjit, the two shutterbugs of the group, immediately embarked on taking pictures while Amal and myself busied ourselves talking with the vendors and asking them about the camels and how much they cost. Man, camels are expensive!
Amal also rode a camel for the first time in her life! I was shocked to know that she had never done it before. Apparently, there are no camels in Lebanon! Anyway, we headed back to the racetrack and caught the fourth round of the race. It was so surreal. People here follow the race by driving their SUV’s around the outside of the 2-km long track beeping and hollering. We did the same. All packed into Rajnit’s SUV, we chased those racing camels. We did that for the following rounds as well and believe me when I tell you, it was exhilarating. I have never seen anything like it in my life.
There were many young men -– mostly from neighboring gulf countries — following the race that were so passionate about what was going on. I even saw a Qatari guy, who I assumed was an owner of one of the racing camels, talking to his jockey via walkie-talky, coaching him I guess.
I’m so glad we got to see this while we are still here. It was a fascinating experience. I wonder if the passion among the young men that own and watch the races will still be there when the camel jockeys are replaced by robots, which will supposedly be implemented next year. [More pictures coming in a photo album]