Rights groups say several thousand boys, some as young as four, work as jockeys in the lucrative sport in the oil-rich Gulf Arab state.

   

They say the boys are kept in prison-like conditions where they are deliberately underfed to keep them light so the camels run faster. The children race at speeds of up to 50km an hour in the sport popular among Beduins.

   

A new law will tighten an existing ban on using boys under 16 or those weighing less than 45kg, the state news agency WAM reported on Monday.

 

The weight limit is aimed at preventing boys being brought in on false passports with the wrong age.

 

Abducted

   

The children are often abducted or sold by their families. Most are from the Indian subcontinent.

 

Al Nahyan (R) said new law would
curb child camel jockeys

"The desire at a high level to combat this is obvious, especially since it became clear that it was a bigger problem than we thought," said a government official in Dubai.

   

The new law will address "loopholes" in past legislation, he said, but did not elaborate.

   

Anyone violating the new regulations will face "stiff legal measures", WAM quoted UAE Deputy Prime Minister Shaikh Hamdan bin Zayid Al Nahyan as saying. He did not explain what these would be.

 

Instructions

   

Air and sea ports will have strict instructions to prevent young boys entering the country for the sport, he said.

   

London-based Anti-Slavery International said last year it had photographs to prove young boys were still racing camels, despite a 2002 government ban. It called for proper inspections and prosecution of those trafficking and employing the boys.

 

"The desire at a high level to combat this is obvious, especially since it became clear that it was a bigger problem than we thought"

government official,
Dubai

Rights group Amnesty International called on the UAE to fully uphold a global convention on the rights of children.

   

"More importantly the government has to open investigations into allegations raised by non-governmental organisations with respect to trafficking or the ill-treatment of these children," said spokeswoman Nicole Choueiry in London.

   

The United States has said it hopes UAE efforts to combat the trade will also encourage a similar ban in other Gulf countries, where thousands more boys are thought to work.

   

International scrutiny has led the UAE to set up a rehabilitation centre in the capital of Abu Dhabi for boy jockeys, the government official said.