Child's play?

Local Lawsuit Reveals Darks Side of Camel Racing

Camel racing doesn’t sound particulary insidious, but an unusual federal case pending in Miami is full of unthinkably dark details.

In a class action complaint filed against two sheik brothers from the United Arab Emirates, attorneys for thousands of young Asian and African boys allege boys from 2 to 4 years old were abducted from their families and enslaved as camel jockeys in the Emirates. The sheiks, Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum and Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum, were “the most active participants” in the slave trade, according to the complaint.

The complaint, brought under a little-used tort law, was filed in Miami because the Maktoums own extensive properties in South Florida. Both men dispute the allegations and say their country is moving to ban the practice, replacing boy jockeys with lightweight robots.

This is the story of one boy, according to the complaint:

R.M. was a two-year-old child, alone in his home. He had been left in the care of his older sister while his parents were at work. His sister had put him down for a nap and gone to a neighbor’s house. When she returned he was gone.

For five years, his family had no idea what had happened to him. His parents tried frantically to look for him. They arranged for loudspeakers to be carreid throughout the neighborhoods and beyond calling out for their missing toddler. It was unbearable for R.M.’s mother. She finally got to see R.M. again when he turned up, as a seven-year-old, in a shelter home.

When R.M. and his mother were finally reunited, they were unable to speak, as they did not speak the same language anymore. R.M. did not answer to the name his mother had given him. For, according to the practice of the slave owners of the United Arab Emirates, he had been given an Arabic slave name.

While in Duba, R.M. lived at the camel camp of and worked for Sheikh Mohammed. He rode and cared for the camesl owned by Sheikh Mohammed. When the now-seven-year-old boy is asked what he did in Dubai for the past five years, he replies, “I worked.”

--Rob Jordan

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