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Kidnapped for Camel racing - The curious case of NCRB data

What do you expect from a typical two-year-old? To be able to walk & run properly. But, immigrant two-year-old boys on camel farms in the UAE in the 1980s had a completely different childhood.They were
India TV News Desk September 01, 2015 16:30 IST
India TV News Desk

What do you expect from a typical two-year-old? To be able to walk & run properly. But, immigrant two-year-old boys on camel farms in the UAE in the 1980s had a completely different childhood.

They were expected to ride and single-handedly steer Camels running at the speeds of 40-65 Kmph to victory, in competitive races spanning 10km racetracks. Yes, you read it right. Two-year-olds who do not have the motor abilities to kick a ball in the right direction were expected to be Camel Jockeys.

The lucky ones learnt to hold themselves to the camel long enough, and the unlucky ones died trying to do so.


UAE after striking gold with their petroleum reserves dramatically changed from being a subsistence economy to an economic superpower.

This accelerated growth ushered in a new way of life for the Emiratis, transforming their traditional Bedouin culture to a more urbanised consumption led lifestyle.

Realising that the dramatic shift was creating a disconnect between the newer and older generations, reviving the Bedouin culture became a priority for the UAE citizens.

Apart from the traditional music, poetry, and dance, camel formed a very important part in the Bedouin life.

Before the advent of modern devices, camels were a crucial source of income and also a means of transportation for the Arabs.

Naturally, in their attempts to revive the culture, Camel was a central theme and the traditional camel races found their way back.
During the olden days, in a society where the camel was an essential entity in daily life, camel races were held as part of festivals or celebrations. But, in the urbanised 1980's camels were transported in trucks to the newly built race tracks to participate in intensely competitive races.

The stakes were high in these camel races. The winners were given cash prizes and luxury sedan cars, which isn't even the main allure for the participants.

The key takeaway for the winner of these races is a rise in their social standing and the pride of a owning a winning camel.

In such a competitive atmosphere, it became imperative that the participants found able and nimble jockeys to steer the animals to victory.

The single most important characteristic of a good camel jockey is, light weight. Lesser the weight of the jockey, lesser is the pressure on the animal and the faster it runs.

Keeping this in mind, even in the olden days, agile youngsters of the family were chosen to ride the camel. But in the new competitive races, these jockeys were replaced with children, who obviously weighed very less.

Thus began the vicious practice of child trafficking from poor countries to UAE to serve as camel jockeys

The Inhuman Treatment meted of Children

Boys aged between 2 to 10 years were trafficked from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, and Mauritania to UAE to work as Camel Jockeys.

According to a UNICEF report, in 2005, about 3000 children were found working on the camel farms, of which 2,800 (93%) of them were below 10 years.

Most of the children were sold by poor parents who couldn't bear the burden of raising a child or who badly needed extra income to run their households. Shockingly, most of the parents had no idea what their child had in store once they reached UAE.

Agents in interior districts of these countries acted as the middlemen between camel owners and parents of the children.

The parents were often misled by them that their child was playing and kept well on the camel farms. This couldn't be farther from the truth.

Children lived on the camel farms 24 hours a day. When they were not exercising the camels, kids were made to work on the camel farms.

While the camels were fed milk, ghee, almonds and dates, all the children got was biscuits or boiled rice with lentils. Children were purposefully underfed and regularly starved to keep their weight low.

For as trivial as a boy eating dates meant for the camel, he could be caned and in worse cases but rarely, could also be given electric shocks as punishment.

Children were subject to rampant sexual abuse, inflicted upon them by agents and older children in the camel farms. According to a study, children were sexually abused in 75% of the camel farms. They were forcibly tied on the camel's back and made to race the animal. Many children fell off the camels in between races, but nobody came to their aid and were left to the mercy of god until the race concluded. Many children died from the fall, some more from the stampede of animals running on the race track.

Children were regularly injured in these races but were provided no medical attention whatsoever, many of them are now left permanently physically disabled.

Away from home, in a land that doesn't speak his language; the kid is put through an emotional hell.

Many of the repatriated children reported developmental issues and all of them were scarred for life from the inhuman treatment meted out to them.

The horrors the little kids have been put through seriously make us question the existence of humanity in people.

A practice that started out as an effort to reconnecting to one's cultural roots proved to be a curse for a generation of children.

Uninhibited selfishness and unquenchable greed of humans is at the heart of these dreadful acts.

They didn't mind using toddlers as camel jockeys as long as they were not their own blood & the agents and middlemen appear to have sworn by to extract the last rupee from the poor.

Exploitation of the Highest Order

Any article on child jockeys is incomplete without the mention of Rahim Yar Khan. A study conducted by ‘Save the Children' organisation in 2005, estimated that 15,000 children were trafficked from Rahim Yar Khan District in Pakistan, alone (from beginning till 2005).

The study also states that the agents and middlemen were cruel extortionists who pocketed the 3-4 lakh rupees, the Sheikhs handed them as compensation cum travel expenses for the child, and in return the agents again demanded money from parents of the boys as travel expenses.

The poor families often had to take a loan to meet these travel expenses. Not stopping at that, the agents stole half of the boys' meagre wages of 400 Dirham per month. The measly 200-250 Dirham that reached the boys' families at the end, hardly made any difference to their lives.

The poor parents were at the mercy of agents/middlemen. When some of the parents came to know about the truth of camel farms, they wanted to bring their children home, but the agent wouldn't let the child go unless he was bribed. In some cases when the children were injured, the compensation that the Sheikh paid them never reached them, again thanks to the agents.

All the perpetrators involved in this racket deftly redefined Darwin's theory of ‘survival of the fittest' to ‘survival of the ruthless'

Several attempts were made to put an end to this ghastly practice. In 1993 the UAE government passed a legislation banning the participation of children in Camel Racing.

The Camel Racing Association, the apex governing body for the sport, also responded by placing a ban on small children and those weighing less than 45 kg from taking part in the races. But these laws were bypassed very easily by the collusion of officials, sheikhs and agents.

Children were transported to UAE with the help of a ‘fake' family whose entry was facilitated by the corrupt immigration officials.
This went on unchecked for years, despite vocal protests from organisations such as Anti Slavery International, UNICEF, Save the Children and human rights activists like Ansar Burney among many others.

Finally in 2005, after mounting International pressure, the UAE government issued a new federal law prohibiting children below the age of 18 years from participating in the races, and also signed an agreement with UNICEF to provide 2.7 million USD as aid in facilitating the rehabilitation, repatriation and reintegration of child jockeys to their home countries.

Rehabilitation Efforts and the Present Scenario

“Rival baby rider kills his fellow rider in spite”

“There was a child in the camp and because he wanted to leave the camp and go to Dubai, one of the racetrack owners ran over the child in a truck and killed him”

“If they were over-weight, they were given electric shocks twenty times a day to reduce their weight. They were given half a bread to eat.”

“They don't know how to sleep on beds, how to take a bath, how to go to the toilet; they don't know how to use the cupboards”

This is how the poor children spent their lives as camel jockeys. The 2.7 million USD in aid by the UAE government seemed like a cruel joke in the face of what thousands of young children were subjected to.

Rehabilitating and reintegrating children who were witness to such agonizing incidents, into the mainstream society is nothing short of an impossible task. The challenges are huge, quoting Mr.Ansar Burney from a newspaper report: “The police ask me for the name of the child, the father's name, the name of the place and the name of the owner of the camp, so it's very difficult to find this information for each and every boy; These boys arrived at the racetrack when they were six months old.” According to Mr.Burney, few boys have any idea who their real parents are and where they come from.

Well meaning NGOs like Ansar Burney trust, UNICEF are doing their part in rehabilitating these children to their parents. They have set up shelters for the jockeys in Abu Dhabi where they teach them basic education, encourage them to play among themselves and generally live the life of a child. According to UAE's estimates, in 2005, there were 3000 camel jockeys on the farms and by March 2006 when the initial repatriation programme had ended, UNICEF reported that 1,075 children had been repatriated to their homes.

According to authorities rest of the children returned by means other than UNICEF, but even then the officially repatriated numbers are only 1/3rd of the total number of children, leaving room for anxiety and doubt about the fate of remaining children.

There have also been many unconfirmed reports that some children are yet to receive the compensation and reintegration benefits sanctioned to them.

Even after 2005, reports of child trafficking for camel jockeys crop up every once in a while. Ansar Burney trust reported that child trafficking thrived in backward regions of Southern Punjab of Pakistan and that these child jockeys were used in much lesser known camel races till as late as the end of 2009.

In 2010, Anti Slavery International's delegates attended a camel race in Abu Dhabi and suspected that the children riding the camels were underage and were not Emiratis as the officials claimed.

But there's one bright spot in all of this gloom, technology has come to the aid of these children and robot jockeys have replaced kids now. Light weight robots that vaguely resemble a tiny child are widely used today as camel jockeys. This is a welcome move, and according to news reports the use of robot jockeys has substantially brought down the practice of using child jockeys.

Also, almost all NGOs and UNICEF unanimously agree that UAE's efforts have drastically reduced the use of child jockeys in races. Due credit has to be given to Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the President of UAE who passed the landmark legislation in 2005 and to the UAE authorities for taking stringent action.

All said and done, the only way such acts can be effectively prevented and put an end to is by addressing the problem at its core. Parents of the trafficked children opined that creating awareness about the issue in trafficking hotspots, limiting the role of the agent were crucial to ending this practice.

Importantly, rehabilitation efforts from all the stakeholders should be tightened, ensuring that every affected child gets a fair chance at living a good life. Many reports claim that children repatriated to their home countries did not get their reintegration benefits, the work of UAE government in completely exonerating themselves from gruesome crimes against these children will be an unfinished job until every affected child is tracked and assisted in rebuilding their lives.

The Indian Context

In India, trafficking children for child jockeys hasn't been as rampant as it has been in Pakistan or Bangladesh, but some cases have definitely been reported. A 1997 Frontline article mentions an instance where Bangladeshi, and Indian children were being trafficked from Bangalore to UAE. Other than that and a couple of other stories, much hasn't been written in Indian print media about child jockeys.

But Factly team stumbled across a National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report which shockingly mentions the kidnapping of 70 persons from Gujarat in 2012 for Camel racing. The veracity of this report and what it means in the larger context of crime reporting shall be dealt in the subsequent article.

The Peculiar Turn of Events

The data pertaining to kidnapping (for the purpose of camel racing) was in the National Crime Records Bureau(NCRB) records. To get a better picture of the issue and the prevalence of this crime in India, an RTI application was filed with the Ministry of Home Affairs which was in turn routed to NCRB.

We requested for information about the number of cases registered under ‘Kidnapping for the purpose of Camel Racing' under IPC section 363 listed year wise, state wise, age wise, and gender wise. We requested the data for the period since camel racing was categorised as a crime subhead
under IPC section 363. We were provided with data from 1999 till 2014.
The following data was provided by NCRB.


What does the Data tell us?

  • Only one boy in the age group of 10-15 years was kidnapped from 1999 to 2014
  • 90 women in the age group of 18-50 years and one in the age group of 10-15 years were kidnapped from 1999 to 2014.
  • 2012 saw a sudden spurt in the number of cases (70). All these cases were reported from Gujarat alone. All of the victims were women and in the age group of 18-50 years.
  • Frequency of the crime has been high in Andhra Pradesh. Of the 8 years that Camel Racing crimes were registered, Andhra Pradesh reported cases in 4 of the 8 years.

Incongruence of the data with the purported crime

The genesis of trafficking and abuse of little boys (aged below 10) as camel riders is due to the sole fact that the speed at which a camel can run is greatly determined by the weight it has to carry and to ensure that camels can run their best, the lightest or smallest riders are preferred. This is why boys below 10 years are the victims of trafficking for camel racing.

But the data at hand suggests otherwise, 91 of the 92 who were kidnapped were women, that too in an age group of 18-50 years, which is definitely not the age group sought by the camel owners for camel jockeys.

To be sure of our premise that only little boys are used as camel riders in competitive races, we researched extensively to find any source that talks of girl camel riders and also spoke various experts. True to our premise, neither did we find any source that spoke of girl camel riders in competitive races nor did any of the NGOs and activists hear of any girls/women being trafficked for camel races. We also didn't come across any instance of adults being used as camel jockeys in competitive races.

This raises serious questions about the veracity of the NCRB data related to Kidnappings, further deepening and confirming our suspicion that the data maybe inaccurate. In 2005, UAE backed by UNICEF banned child jockeys and launched an intensive rehabilitation & repatriation programme. Owing to the ban and also due to the increased use of light weight robots as jockeys, child trafficking for camel races saw a sharp decline. But as per NCRB data, in 2012 (post the ban by UAE), there has been a sudden rise in the number of cases compared to all the previous years.

Summing up, firstly, the universal and consistent trend of demographics pertaining to victims of trafficking for camel racing has not been consistent with the Indian data.

Secondly, the timeline of the occurrence and spike in the crime is also inconsistent with global data and trends.

These two reasons are good enough to conclude that the NCRB data in this context may be inaccurate.

Why this Inaccuracy?

There could be three possible explanations for the inaccuracy in data which are detailed below.

1. Improper definition of the crime – Kidnapping for the purpose of Camel Racing

Kidnapping under IPC section 363 is classified under various subheads based on the purpose of the kidnapping i.e., Camel racing, begging and prostitution etc. Each subhead, when categorized, has to be defined by the law properly. In the sense, it has to be clearly defined as to which action constitutes ‘kidnapping for begging/camel racing' and how it is different from other sub heads. Since reporting data under a particular category is at the discretion of the Police at the lowest level, there is every possibility of arbitrariness creeping into the system.

From the data, it is clear that, in almost all cases across years, women have been listed as the victims. This improper repeated registration of adult women as victims of ‘camel races kidnapping' makes us wonder if the crime has been defined properly in the first place.

2. Negligence (or) Purposeful improper registration of crimes by the Police

As discussed, there is enough scope for discretion in the registration of such crimes. It could simply be a case of negligence on part of the police officials in registering the cases. It could also be that the Police purposefully registered the cases improperly, possibly even creating a cover up for a far more serious crime.

Women kidnapping and trafficking has been a grave problem that has been plaguing India for a while now. The fact that the almost all the victims in this case are adult women and are in a vulnerable age group, makes us believe that these cases could possibly be instances of trafficking of women for prostitution, forcible marriage, ransom or even begging which otherwise have been registered as kidnapped for camel racing.

The following table captures the details of punishment awarded to different types of kidnapping cases

Point to be noted here is that kidnapping under IPC section 363(under which the camel races cases have been booked according to NCRB data) entails a maximum punishment of 7 years with fine, while crimes of women trafficking under the Immoral Trafficking Prevention act (1956) or IPC section 370 entails a maximum punishment of 14 years with fine, and under IPC section 364A kidnapping to murder levies a maximum punishment of Death penalty or Life.

So, there is also every possibility that these cases registered under camel racing were in fact cases of women trafficking (or) kidnapping for ransom disguised and improperly registered as kidnappings for camel racing so as to help the perpetrators escape a higher quantum of punishment.

3.    Improper Data Records

The following is the flow of data from the Police Station to the NCRB. NCRB uses a template that has to be filled out by authorities at each level which finally reaches NCRB.

There are three levels at which the data is compiled and transferred to the next level before it finally reaches NCRB. This is a very manual process with the onus of data accuracy clearly with the officials at each level. If any negligence creeps in at any level, the data is compromised and errors simply percolate upwards.

Assuming this is true, officials who were responsible to compile and collect the data made a mistake in documenting the kidnappings for 8 years repeatedly and also managed to falsely attribute 70 cases in 2012 alone.

Incidentally, this is not a standalone case where NCRB data was questioned. The Accidental Deaths and Suicides India (ADSI) Report of 2014 reported that farmer suicides witnessed a dramatic fall of 67% in the last five years. This created uproar among activists, journalists and other stakeholders. Going a step further according to ADSI 2014, the three big farming states West Bengal, Bihar and Rajasthan reported zero farmer suicides.

Implications of Inaccurate Data

If any of the above assumptions is true, then there are grave implications of such data inaccuracy.

  • The crime was categorised in India specifically to combat child trafficking for camel races. There were also newspaper reports of Indian boys being sent to UAE to work as jockeys. The absence of any information about the actual victims in the NCRB records is quite shocking. It makes us wonder if the law made to protect the victims, actually did serve the purpose.
  • Camel Racing is a very age and a gender specific crime and hence an aberration in the data was very easily noticeable and verifiable. There could be so many crimes across the system that are misreported or improperly registered in the first place that are very difficult to scourge and also importantly, difficult to prove their falsity.
  • If negligence or purposeful improper registration of crimes is assumed to be true, this spells nothing short of doom for the common man. Chilling accounts of corrupt police registering false cases to harass the victims or to protect the perpetrators have been around long enough. Camel racing kidnapping cases is just another instance to confirm the much talked about police corruption and sheer negligence.
  • If the last possibility of NCRB improperly documenting these crimes is true, then this instance is another addition to the ever rising list of inaccurate data records with NCRB.

When inconsistencies crop up, we take refuge in facts and try to find answers. But here in this case ‘facts' have left us with more questions than answers. Either or all of the possibilities could be true or could be false, but we can only speculate the probable scenarios. The only fact this research establishes beyond doubt is that there are systemic errors that have to be taken care of and taken care of at the earliest.

The 92 kidnappings for Camel Races reported across 8 years might not be a pressing issue, but digging deeper, the implications of such improper registration of cases has to be dealt with very urgently.

Author's Note: The author would like to add that, many efforts were made to understand the presence of the supposed flawed data. We got in touch with women's rights activists in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat to inquire and understand if there were any instances of trafficking for girl camel riders. None of the activists had heard of any sort of women trafficking/kidnapping for camel racing. We also spoke with law makers and police officials to get a better picture of the mystery this data began to become, and they replied in negative as well.