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life and death
Vani Saraswathi Suleiman lies in his hospital crib, hand in a sling and in obvious pain. The nurse holds him gently and asks him in Arabic, what he'd like to have for food. He looks suspiciously at her. She repeats the question. ``Mutton, yoghurt, rice...,'' he manages to whisper. Food he has neither tasted nor seen in a very long time . Barely five or six, Suleiman's daily working diet was half-a-sandwich and a can of juice. But as long as he is in hospital, the nurses would pamper him and he can have his wish-list of food almost to the letter. Suleiman is one of the thousands of children used as camel jockeys in the Arab world. His Arabian nightmare began and promises to continue in Doha, in the Emirate of Qatar. Now Qatar has promised to `investigate' the issue of children being used as jockeys. Its Supreme Council for Family Affairs has agreed to set up a committee to look into this issue. Even as these announcements were being made, prestigious camel r aces were flagged off. During one such race, Suleiman fell off his camel and narrowly missed being trampled. Today, he has no idea that there is just a slight flicker of hope for his survival. But Qatar's sudden awakening doesn't signal any enlightenment or quick deliverance for the children. Global dynamics driven by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and its meeting scheduled later this year at Doha have prompted the authorities to doll up their act. Qatar is dropping the veil a bit to see how far the world community goes. Doha's selection as a venue was slammed by activists, as demonstrations are banned in Qatar. The WTO was charged with trying to find a way around the protests that marked the Seattle meet in 1999. The Qatari Minister of Finance, Economy and Trade, Yousef Hussein Kamal, was quick to clarify that the State would allow peaceful demonstrations, and that protestors would be allowed to express their views in total freedom. They have also agreed to s et aside 1,000 rooms for NGOs. All this under mounting pressure. The European Union has said that it would support Qatar only if NGOs were allowed full and effective access to the event. Qatar's otherwise strict visa regulations would be relaxed to accommodate NGO represen tatives. With the meeting now safely tucked in its kitty of international events -- World Islamic conference in 2000, Gulf's first women's tennis tournament in February 2001, and the 2006 Asiads -- Qatar has to clean up its stables of guilt. During the Islamic conference and tennis tournament, little coverage was given to camel racing. Moreover, there was no NGO involvement in these events. The WTO meeting will be different. When the doors are thrown open to activists, who have already criticised Qatar's undemocratic set-up, the sight of little
children strapped to camels will certainly not go down well. Ironically, despite Qatar' s strict visa regulations, the children do not have valid papers and are smuggled into the country by agents. Most of the priced camels that participate in the top races are owned by members of the ruling family or ministers. They are the ones who pay for the jockeys. On a given day, at least half-a-dozen children take a tumble. The lucky ones escape with a fracture or injury, bad enough to require hospitalisation, and thus get a short-break from the terror of the track. The not-so-lucky ones suffer minor bruises, and are put right back on the camels. The real unlucky ones are those who suffer serious injuries, some of whom die. At least 90 per cent of the children suffer anal-bleeding and crushed testes. According to the nurse, Suleiman is lucky. Only a couple of weeks ago, another little one was discharged after four months. He was admitted with a severe skull fracture -- he was thrown off his camel and was hit by the hooves of another camel. The c hild had no visitors and on discharge was handed over to the Sudanese embassy. These are children with just a name -- without identity, official papers, and a future. November will bring with it thousands of WTO delegates and NGOs to Qatar. It is then that Qatar's patience and word on democracy would be put to test, as the NGOs would be nosing around for rights' infraction. The local press is just emerging from censorship and the plight of jockeys has been largely ignored by the papers. Qatar's wealthy sheikhs exchange jewelled swords every year, but the closest they ever get to that lump of flesh -- the came l's hump -- which is the jockey's work station is a passing pat on the rump from inside a plush landcruiser. You'll never catch them putting their own children in harm's way. The stench of camel and the terror of the track are reserved exclusively for the expatriate children. For the children -- faces covered in snot, ungroomed and dressed in rags -- the dangers are many. As the camels mill at the start, their bodies crunch into each other and little limbs are in constant danger of being crushed. Later, as the camels careen down a track that stretches from 10 km to 18 km, followed by the owners on an inside track, they are exposed to the risk of camels biting them in their faces, on their legs and in the groin. At times, these bites may e ven leave the child impaired for life. The biggest risk is of getting unsaddled and tumbling straight into hoof alley. Even if Qatar decides to ban child jockeys, it is not known whether the ban will continue to exist beyond the WTO meeting. Defining child labour * The term `child' shall apply to all persons under the age of 18. * The term `worst forms of child labour' comprises: (a) all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour,
including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict; (b) the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; (c) the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties; (d) work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children. * Each Member shall take all necessary measures to ensure the effective implementation and enforcement of the provisions including the provision and application of penal sanctions or, as appropriate, other sanctions. * Each Member shall, taking into account the importance of education in eliminating child labour, take effective and time-bound measures to: (a) prevent the engagement of children in the worst forms of child labour; (b) provide the necessary and appropriate direct assistance for the removal of children from the worst forms of child labour and for their rehabilitation and social integration; (c) ensure access to free basic education, and, wherever possible and appropriate, vocational training, for all children removed from the worst forms of child labour; (d) identify and reach out to children at special risk; and (e) take account of the special situation of girls. * Members shall take appropriate steps to assist one another through enhanced international cooperation and/or assistance including support for social and economic development, poverty eradication programmes and universal education. but have not ratified the revising Convention. Excerpts from a paper presented at the ILO Web site ``www.ilo.org'' http://www.blonnet.com/businessline/2001/03/12/stories/101244a3.htm
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