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April 13, 2005

On Robots and Boy Jockeys

First I’ll share this Reuters story:

Qatar says robots to replace child camel jockeys

DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar plans to start using robots as riders in popular camel races after international criticism of the use of child jockeys, the Gulf Arab state's official QNA news agency reported on Wednesday.

It said the robot, developed by an unnamed Swiss company, had been tested successfully and that the energy-rich country was considering setting up a factory to build them.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Saud al-Thani, the official in charge of the project, referred to United Nations concern over child jockeys and said Qatar was determined to save camel racing, which is popular among Arabs of Bedouin origin.

Nearby United Arab Emirates has also announced plans to introduce remote-controlled robots, which can be light enough to use as jockeys in the lucrative sport.

Rights groups say several thousand boys, some as young as four, work as camel jockeys in the oil-rich Gulf, many after being abducted or sold by their families mainly from the Indian subcontinent.

They say the boys are kept in prison-like conditions and underfed to keep them light so the camels run faster.

Boy, this seems like a good deal, doesn't it? The boys were treated badly, so they're to be replaced by robots. Cool. And, then, the boys will be well-fed at last and brought into wealthy families and made princes? Or, perhaps, they’ll just be tossed on the shitpile?

What do you think?

Not all progress is progressive and sometimes – often – with the best of intent we screw things up all the more.

Posted by Mike Gold at April 13, 2005 05:28 PM

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Yeah, the boys who are currently jockeys will likely be screwed. It is sad and unfortunate, but good intentions do not a plan make. Maybe the U.N., now that their criticism is being answered, will step in to help with the kids. That's being awfully optimistic, though.

At the very least, this (theoretically) ensures that, in the future, fewer boys will face this problem in the first place.

Posted by: Andy Holman at April 14, 2005 09:14 AM

Things weren't much better for jockeys in this country during the Depression, as vividly described in the book Seabiscuit (as opposed to the very entertaining movie, which largely skirted this issue).

Not that our historical precedent justifies the treatment of underage jockeys in the third world today, but it's an interesting parallel.

And now that they are free of the horrible abuses to which child jockeys are subjected, they are free to pursue more rewarding careers in child prostitution, which I understand is very popular in some of the same countries.

Posted by: Rick Oliver at April 14, 2005 10:52 AM

Hi my name is Kate Ahlers and I am a year ten student at Hamilton Girls High School. In year ten Social studies it is compulsory that we have to research a topic on Human Rights. I am conducting my research on “Boys aged 2-6 years old forced to work as camel jockeys”. And I was wondering if I could interview you if you know any information about this event? So if you could e-mail me back in the next few days that would be awesome.

Yours Sincerely Kate Ahlers

Posted by: Kate Ahlers at June 20, 2005 01:49 AM

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