|A group of 64 boys arrive at the international airport in Lahore, Pakistan, travelling from Dubai. They are the seventh group of former child camel jockeys to be repatriated under the United Arab Emirates-UNICEF agreement signed in May 2005.|
By Esmaeil Ibrahim
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, 1 March 2006 – Participants at the first-ever workshop on combating child trafficking in the Arab world have called for the practice to be criminalized.
The workshop, which concluded here last week, builds on a growing awareness of the importance of child rights, as demonstrated recently by the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) ban on the use of underage camel jockeys.
Among the participants were government officials at the national and municipal levels, academics, religious leaders, and representatives of civil society organizations. Nine countries were represented at the event: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan.
Participants also called for the development of National Plans of Action to fight child trafficking; increased regional cooperation and networking; additional support for capacity development; and partnering with UNICEF and other international organizations in the response to child trafficking.
Dimensions of the problem
The workshop was organized by the Naif Arab University for Security Sciences and UNICEF.
“This was a landmark gathering,” said June Kunugi, UNICEF Representative for the Persian Gulf countries. “We congratulate and thank Naif University and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for hosting this first Arab regional workshop on such an important topic.
“It was a valuable opportunity to gain technical knowledge on the problem, share country experiences, and collectively commit to co-operation and follow-up action,” she said.
It is estimated that as many as 1.2 million children may fall victim to trafficking each year. Child trafficking is a global problem, affecting both industrialized and developing countries. Children are trafficked for a wide range of reasons, including for use as cheap or forced labour, for sexual exploitation, or for use by armed forces or groups in conflicts.
Children made to work as camel jockeys in the Gulf region were often sold by families at ages as young as four or five, taken to other countries and forced to endure harsh living conditions and long working hours while participating in the risky sport.
|© Naif University|
|Dr. Ushari Khalil, UNICEF Senior consultant on child protection; June Kunugi, UNICEF Representative for Oman, and Gulf Area office; Prof. A. Al-Ghamdi and Dr. M. Al-Shehri, of Naif University.|
Keynote speeches were delivered by Sheikh Dr. Hamza al Fi`er, one of the sheikhs of the Holy Mosque in Makkah al Mukarramah and a professor of Sharia in Um al Qura University, and by Professor Ali al Namla, the former Minister of Labour and Social Affairs in Saudi Arabia.
During the workshop, participants heard about the United Arab Emirates’ agreement with UNICEF, signed in May 2005, to fund the repatriation and integration of former child camel jockeys, and to ban the use of jockeys under 16 years old.
International experts led the debate on various dimensions of the child trafficking problem, including:
Co-operation between UNICEF and Saudi Arabia for addressing child trafficking and exploitation began in 2004 when His Royal Highness Prince Abdul Majiid Bin Abdul Aziz asked UNICEF for support in providing better protection for children involved in street selling and begging.
UNICEF began supporting a shelter in Jeddah which so far has received over 3,000 trafficked children and repatriated more than 2,000, to Yemen, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Niger, and other countries.