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Supporting the repatriation of child camel jockeys in Mauritania

UNICEF Image: Mauritania, child camel jockeys
© UNICEF video
Children catch up with their studies at a school for former camel jockeys in Mauritania.

By Brahim Auld Isselmou

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania, 25 June 2007 – Like many 11-year-olds, Yacoub struggles with his studies. Unlike other children his age, however, he only started school two years ago. He has recently been repatriated from the United Arab Emirates, where he spent his early years as a child camel jockey.

Now, Yacoub studies at a special school for former camel jockeys. He has a noticeable scar on his forehead caused by numerous falls he suffered while racing camels. His eyesight is permanently damaged, making studying an even more difficult task.

Hundreds of Mauritanian children like Yacoub have been trafficked cross the border to work as jockeys.

“In countries like the UAE and others with similar nomadic culture, camel racing is a tradition,” explained the UNICEF Representative in Mauritania, Dr. Souleymane Diallo. “Children are chosen as camel jockeys because of their small weight and skills acquired while tending camels at an early age.”

Bringing children home

Lately, the Government of the UAE has taken steps to put an end to this form of child exploitation by placing a ban on using children under 16 as camel jockeys.

After the ban was implemented, Yacoub and 20 other children were repatriated to their home country of Mauritania, where many were reunited with their families. Among the youths is Cherif Ahmed, who is from the poor community of Nouakchott.

UNICEF Image: Mauritania, child camel jockeys
© UNICEF video
Former child camel jockey Yacoub is finally reunited with his family in Mauritania.

Cherif, whose father is deceased, was sent to the UAE by his grandmother because his family was impoverished and needed income. Like most of the repatriated camel jockeys, when Cherif came home, he could only speak Bengali.

“He told me that he spent nights crying and calling for his family to take him back home,” said Cherif’s mother. “Following his return to Mauritania, we enrolled him in the local school and he is slowly picking up our language again.”

Addressing the root cause

With support from UNICEF, a cross-border repatriation programme for child camel jockeys has been established by the UAE and Mauritania.

Since the root cause of the problem involves poverty, the Government of the UAE has provided affected families with compensation and is supporting them by offering alternative income-generating activities.

“The project addresses the community’s needs, and provides them with basic services – mostly in the remote and marginalized villages,” said Dr. Diallo. “This is the only way to avoid having the children be sent away again.”




21 June 2007
UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on the reintegration of former child camel jockeys in Mauritania.
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