Law change frees boys sold into slavery in emirates More than 2,000 Pakistani children involved in camel racing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will begin arriving home this month. Human rights activists hope the practice of using the underage boys as jockeys is close to being eradicated. After being trapped in hundreds of camps across the desert kingdoms, the boys are to rejoin their families thanks to a recent decision by the UAE government to ban children below the age of 16 from camel racing. 'It is a big step forward and we hope the measure will go a long way in eliminating a barbaric tradition once and for all,' said Ansar Burney, a human rights activist in Pakistan. Scores of Pakistani boys, the youngest just two years old, are smuggled each year to the oil-rich Arab countries for use in the lucrative sport. International aid agencies have long pressed the Arab countries to end the use of children as jockeys, mainly because of the severe mental and physical damage the sport causes to the child, who is tied to the back of the camel. As the terrified jockey screams, the animal runs faster, often causing the young rider to fall and be trampled under its feet. Some of the riders die, while others are left disabled - both mentally and physically. Others who survive physically are left with huge psychological trauma. According to human rights groups, the powerful child-smuggling racket consists of hundreds of middlemen buying the offspring of poor rural families and selling them at a higher price to Arabs in the Gulf. In some cases, these middlemen simply approach the poor parents and offer them a monthly stipend to let their children be part of the dangerous sport. Those fighting the practice believe that unless socio-economic conditions in Pakistan change, the abuse will continue. 'The agent told me there were many who had earned fortunes that way,' said Muhammad Iqbal, father of nine-year-old Nazir, who was recently rescued by Pakistani embassy workers from a desert camp in Abu Dhabi. 'We were assured that our son would be treated well. Besides, we took it as a chance for a decent living. I have four daughters and my income is not sufficient even to meet our daily needs.' Born in a small village in Pakistan's southern Punjab province, Nazir was handed over by his father to the agent for 3,000 rupees ($390) a month. Although authorities in the Gulf states have banned the use of underage boys in camel races, the trafficking continues. Abuse at desert camps is a common story. According to Nazir, their Arab supervisor was a cruel man who used to beat the boys regularly. They slept on a bare floor and were always underfed. Rights groups say the children are deliberately starved because the lighter the rider, the faster the camel can go. Nazir saw several of his peers injured when they fell off the camels during races. 'Many of them died,' he said.