By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Theirs is dangerous work. If the Velcro ties that keep a boy atop the camel loosen or break, he slips down and hangs beneath the camel, where he risks breaking his neck. Or if the animal throws him off, the boy may get trampled by other camels. If he breaks only an arm or a leg, he lives to ride another day.
For years the riding has gone on openly, with airlines even advertising the sport for tourists. The U.S. State Department's "Trafficking in Persons Report" of July 2001 names India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka as countries where children are trafficked for use as camel jockeys. It notes that while the United Arab Emirates passed a law forbidding boys under 15 to be made jockeys, the country does not enforce it.
Last month, leaders in the Sudan instructed police to block anyone transporting boys for this purpose, and in Pakistan, police are stopping traders at the border. "The children are taken from their families and their own culture. . . . There have been cases where they are as young as three or four, but they are commonly six or seven or older," says Mike Kaye of London's Anti-Slavery International. "When the jockeys don't perform well, they are subject to abuse. There have been cases where they have just been left in the desert to die."
Dawn, the Pakistani daily, has found that buyers demand young jockeys. "Those to be mounted on the camelback for the notorious race that leaves many children injured, maimed, mentally traumatized, and even dead, must be no older than seven years and weigh 12 to 15 kilograms," the paper wrote last March.
E.P. Teki, a spokesman at the Indian embassy in Washington, told the Voicehis country had stopped the sale of boys by forbidding them to travel abroad alone without a special pass issued by a governmental department that checks into their plans. Recently, Indian police arrested a gang member who confessed that scores of children, kidnapped mainly from Punjab and Sindh, had been smuggled to the Gulf countries through the Arabian Sea from Karachi to become camel jockeys.
When asked whether the practice of using young boys as camel jockeys still exists, a spokesman for the United Arab Emirates embassy in Washington said Monday, "I don't think so, because we have laws to regulate the whole camel racing industry." But when pressed to explain why both Pakistan and Sudan claim boys from their countries still are being used, he said, "I don't know where these boys go. I am not a big fan of camel racing, but I know we have had discussions, and the UAE did what is right. It put laws into effect that control the age and weight of camel jockeys. Before a camel jockey can enter a race, he must be a certain weight and a certain age, and this makes sure no kids are involved, so that youth cannot be taken advantage of."
Security Czar Bets Both Ways
A Ridge Too Far
Latest appearance of a conflict of interest in the Bush administration comes from the president's old friend and homeland security czar, Tom Ridge. It seems Ridge owns stock in a company that stands to benefit from selling anti-terrorism services to the feds.
The firm is Unisys, and according to the Associated Press, Ridge's ties reach back to his recent tenure as governor of Pennsylvania. The Unisys Web site says the firm assists 25 state criminal justice agencies that protect 55 percent of the U.S. population. Under Ridge, Pennsylvania was a Unisys customer, according to Ed Hogan, who heads the Unisys Office of Homeland Security Solutions. James Unruh, then the company's CEO, donated at least $600 to Ridge's campaign in 1995-96.
Today Ridge owns stocks in 19 different companies, some of them lobbying the Bush administration for defense contracts. His investments are worth anywhere from $61,019 to $392,000, according to his disclosure statement. A spokesman told the AP that if ethical questions arose, Ridge would seek the advice of the White House counsel.
From Tricky Dicks White House conversations, as excerpted by OC Weekly:
Nixon's Brief World History
"You know what happened to the Romans? The last six Roman emperors were fags."
"You know what happened to the popes? They [had sex with] the nuns. That's been goin' on for years, centuries. But the Catholic Church went to hell three or four hundred years ago."
Additional reporting: Gabrielle Jackson,
Michael Ridley, and Meritxell Mir