LAHORE, Pakistan – Dozens of Pakistani children who had been smuggled to the United Arab Emirates (search) to work as camel race jockeys returned home Friday, an official said.
The 86 children, many of them aged between four and 12, had been in the United Arab Emirates for between three and seven years, said Faiza Asghar, an adviser on child rights issues with the Punjab provincial government in eastern Pakistan.
The boys, with their identity cards hanging from their necks, arrived in the provincial capital, Lahore, on a flight from Abu Dhabi and were driven to a government shelter, Asghar said.
The children will stay at the shelter until their families are traced and they are returned to them, Asghar said.
Last month, 22 other boys between the ages of three and 12 returned from the United Arab Emirates, where camel racing is a popular, centuries-old sport.
Children are used as jockeys in camel races because of their light weight.
Many children are from impoverished countries such as Pakistan where human traffickers pay poor parents or other relatives in return for allowing their children to be taken to the Middle East. Rights groups say the jockeys are often kept as virtual slaves.
Asghar said the children have been victims of "inhuman treatment" and promised government help.
"We cannot return them the years they lost in a hostile environment. We promise we will do our best to make their futures better," she told reporters at the Lahore airport.