Child Slavery on the Arabian Peninsula
Camel jockey slave trade still alive and well.
It is perhaps the most pernicious of evils. The words “child slavery” would cause most people nowadays to recoil in horror, but in the oil-rich countries of the Saudi Arabian Peninsula, it apparently still doesn’t.
The most recent and revolting incident shedding light on the continued existence of this murky and most heinous of crimes involves a thirty-five-year-old Pakistani mother who bravely refused to sell her two boys to a slaver in Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates. But this heroine, whose name, Azim Mai, deserves to be mentioned, paid a high price for her courageous stand. Her husband, angry at her refusal to condemn her sons to such a cruel fate, threw acid in Mai’s face, seriously disfiguring her.
But there are still many other parents among Pakistan’s large, poverty-stricken population willing to sell their male offspring into the Persian Gulf. Boys as young as three are bought from poor parents, and sometimes simply kidnapped from the street, principally in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and sent as slaves to these oil-rich states for one purpose only: to win camel races for their new Arab masters. The boys are expected to do this after being trained as riders under very brutal conditions for what is a very popular sport in that region.
“As many as 6,000 camel jockeys …languished in hidden slavery on ouzbah farms where their masters beat them and starved them to keep their weight down,” wrote E. Benjamin Skinner in his book, A Crime So Monstrous, before the use of boy camel jockeys was officially banned due to international pressure in 2005. A 2004 documentary about the boys’ plight, shown on HBO, was chiefly responsible for making Americans aware of this modern-day barbarism.
Great fanfare was made at the time about replacing the child jockeys with robots. But humanitarian organizations, like the Ansar Burney Trust, never believed all racing camel owners stopped using slave boy jockeys after abolition. Such a law, they say, would never affect the rich and powerful in the Emirates, especially members of the different Gulf royal families. The races, in which children are still made to ride, simply went underground.
As evidence, the Ansar Burney Trust cites the fact that of the estimated 6,000 camel jockeys at the time of the so-called abolition, one thousand are still missing. And even then, some of the ones repatriated back to their countries were resold and resent to the Persian Gulf to race camels again, while still others wound up in the madrassas of Islamic extremist organizations in their home countries.
The unfortunate boys kept on an “ousbah,” an isolated camel farm, are caught up in a nightmare of hellish proportions. After experiencing the trauma of suddenly being separated from their families, they are made to work 18-hour days. A camel jockey-in-training is also starved, beaten and sometimes sexually abused. Serious injury, even death, is a fate that also awaits many of the child riders, some as young as five, when training or racing over distances between four and 10 kilometres atop of 800-900 pound animals that can run as fast as 40 miles per hour. Even if the rider does not fall, damaged genitals is one of the serious wounds the slave boys often suffer.
“They used to wake us at two or three in the morning. If we didn’t get up or thought we were lazy, they would beat us with sticks,” one former child camel jockey told a British newspaper. “We had to clean up the camel dung with our hands.”
Another boy, Zufiqar, 10, said that race day represented the worst time due to the injuries and deaths he saw the camel jockeys suffer when thrown from their fast-moving mounts. And if the camel was also injured, Zufiqar stated “They always look after the camel first.” The reason for this is that the camel may have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars while the slave boy may only have cost a few hundred. Also for this reason, there are camel hospitals, and a Dubai prince was reported by an American paper to even have a swimming pool for his racing camels.
Along with the boys, young girls from South Asia and other impoverished countries are also trafficked to the Arabian Peninsula but for the sinister purpose of sexual exploitation. In the book Princess Sultana’s Circle, a sensitive and modern-thinking princess of the Saudi royal family gave American authoress Jean Sasson damning testimony concerning this evil.
During a social visit to the home of another Saudi royal prince, the princess discovered a harem of young, captive slave girls. The girls had been purchased in South Asian and South-East Asian countries and were forced to provide sexual services for the prince and his friends. The princess had wanted to free them but was unable to do so. The Saudi princess was even more horrified when she later came upon three male members of her own family, all Saudi royal princes, brutally raping a young Pakistani girl one of them had bought and brought back to Saudi Arabia.
Traffickers have also sometimes been caught at Third World airports leaving for the Arabian Peninsula with their human cargo. In 2007, one was caught in Karachi with both a boy and a young, pregnant woman. He was headed for Oman where he planned to sell the boy as a camel jockey and the girl as a sex slave. Her unborn baby was also destined to become a camel jockey or a sex slave, according to Pakistani police, who claim pregnant women are being trafficked for the purpose of producing future slaves.
African-American author Samuel Cotton also stumbled upon the slave trade to the Arabian Peninsula in the 1990s when investigating slavery at the other end of the Islamic world in Mauritania. In his book Silent Terror: A Journey Into Contemporary African Slavery, Cotton was told by Mauritanian anti-slavery activists that there was “still a huge trafficking in slaves going on between Mauritania and the United Arab Emirates.” Cotton was also stunned to discover that black African children playing alone would be kidnapped by Arabs travelling on camels with big baskets, in which the children were placed. The children, he was told, are sometimes later found “hundreds of miles away as slaves.”
Unfortunately for its innocent victims, both present and future, the eradication of slavery on the Arabian Peninsula will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. It is an ingrained, centuries-old institution. And despite it being officially banned since the early 1960s, many fundamentalist Muslims there still view destroying innocent young lives as their legal right. Under sharia law, which governs Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, Muslims are legally allowed to own slaves. Bernard Lewis, the eminent scholar of Islam, writes “…the institution of slavery is not only recognised but is elaborately regulated by Sharia law.” Another reason for this inhuman sense of entitlement is that the prophet Muhammad was also a slave owner, setting the example for the fundamentalists.
Another problem that hinders eradication is that highly-placed officials responsible for enforcing the laws in Arabian countries probably own slaves themselves. One former black African slave girl, Mender Nazer, who escaped from slavery in London, England, belonged to a highly-placed official in the Sudanese embassy. Nazer was the second slave to escape from her Arab master’s household in the British capital and wrote an account of her years in bondage in Slave: My True Story.
But perhaps the greatest obstacle to abolishing slavery in places like the Arabian Peninsula and Mauritania is the mindset. In these countries, enslaving non-Arab human beings, including children, is simply viewed as the natural order of things. Concerning Mauritania, Cotton wrote: “The problem is that Mauritania’s Arabs sincerely believe that blacks are inferior and are born to be slaves.” Without a doubt, the same kind of Arab supremacist thinking prevails in the Arabian Peninsula. In his book The Arabs As Master Slavers, author John Laffin probably comes closest to the truth about the reason for the continued existence of slavery in some Arab countries when he wrote “…there does exist in Arabs a need to dominate a subservient class…”
Victims of child slavery also cannot look to the United Nations Human Rights Council for help. It contains despots and tyrants whose human rights records are just as bad as Mauritania’s and Saudi Arabia’s, as well as Islamic countries that bribe them and may be practising slavery themselves.
American and European leftists, who worked themselves into paroxysms of moral outrage over Mohammed al-Dura, the 12-year-old boy they claim was shot dead by Israeli soldiers, also have yet to exhibit the same level of empathy for child victims of the Arab slave trade. The reason they haven’t so far is that they want to maintain the image they have carefully constructed that Israel and America are the only oppressors in the Middle East and Arabs the victims. Admitting that Arabs are enslaving children would only undermine their propaganda campaign. The left also wants to keep the focus on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It has always been a useful weapon to use against the Untied States.
In the 1990s, Cotton called “the ignorance and apathy of America’s black leaders” shameful in regard to the Arab slave trade. Tragically for today’s child victims, this can be said about many other leaders outside America’s black community. It is a pity they do not possess even half the courage or resolve of an Azim Mai.
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