Sunday, April 8, 2018

Mongolia exploits children in the name of tradition

Yes, horse racing is an  ancient tradition but Mongols have never used little children as jockeys back then. Yes, Mongolian children learn to ride a horse at a young age as 4 or 5 because horse riding is part of traditional nomadic life style. But riding a horse in everyday life and riding a race horse are two different things, and there are no sources  proving that young children rode race horses back in ancient times. So, the child jockey practice is  a new "tradition", maybe started around  1920s. The only reason to use children as  jockeys  is their light weight. Horse owner would look for children as light as possible, hence children younger ages are more "attracted" 
Al Jazeera has published an interesting article and a video on aljazeera.com. Click HERE.

Mongolia is also one of the countries where camel racing has also became a tradition although not popular  as in countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Oman etc. Child jockeys used to ride race camels in Saudi Arabia but now they have replaced  child jockeys with robots. They used to use younger children with lower weights so that the camels could run faster. Allegedly they used to keep so called "slave children" who were intentionally  malnourished for  that  purpose. After much critics and outrage Saudis have abolished this tradition.
Interestingly, in Mongolia only adults ride race camels.

So, camel racing is not a problem in Mongolia, but horse racing is. How harmful is it to our children? Very harmful! According to law professor Munkhsaikhan O., Mongolian State University, in average  2 children would die every year.  Hundreds would fall from horses during  races, and many of them would get  injured, some seriously.  His article can be read HERE (in Mongolian).

Since  horse owners prefer to  keep secret any information regarding any accident during races, many cases of injuries  are not reported, and that is why there are no complete statistics available for each year in the past. 

Munkhsaikhan wrote, these are the data he found:
17 deaths in 1996-2006,
2 deaths in 2006-2008,
6 deaths in 2012-2014, (some data shows 4 deaths in 2012-2014  and 6 deaths in 2015-2017).

In addition every year 300 child jockeys suffer from injuries. The number of children who fall from horses while racing is much higher.  Those 300 children  lose their ability to become  productive citizens in the future since they would become  invalids because of their injuries. This is a tragedy we can prevent! How? Very simple: Stop using children as jockeys. But we still keep this dangerous, even deadly  practice,  creating  literally an army of disabled people! 

"Dunjingarav 2018" horse race
At a recent horse racing event called "Dunjingarav" on March 18, 2018, where one of the three races was carried out even in dark, as you can see in the picture above, in total 16 children fell from horses and 3 of them were hospitalized.  One of these three was seriously injured, with his skull crashed, and he needed to go through a number of surgeries. 
There is an non-governmental organization called Mongolian Association of Horse Racing and Horse Trainers (MAHRHT)  which is responsible for horse racing. The Speaker of the Mongolian Parliament, M.Enkhbold, a long-time President of MAHRHT, has stepped down recently due to critics regarding recent Dunjingarav 2018 race event, mentioned above. He should have it done long time ago and should have worked on abolishing of this child jockey "tradition", but instead he kept silent for so many years and did nothing. Maybe, even though he is no more President, he is still not against child jockey "tradition." Since he has been for so many years the head of this organization, he is at least morally guilty and responsible for all deaths and injuries occurred in the past years. 

M.Enkhbold , Speaker of Mongolian Parliament (stepped down as long time  President of MAHRHT)

What do we need? We need to end this practice  harmful to children! We are hurting our children in the name of tradition. It is like encouraging and keeping an ancient practice  of female genital mutilation as tradition in some countries. Race horses should be ridden only by adults, jockeys 18 years old and up. Even though there are sufficient laws existing in Mongolia to protect children, child jockeys are not protected. These laws are falling short of international standards established by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

According to THIS article , International Labor Organization (ILO) made an observation in 2015 and urged the Mongolian Government to take necessary measures in law and practice to ensure that no child under 18 years of age is employed as  horse jockey, but both the Government and the Parliament have been ignoring this advice because the MAHRHT is represented in both bodies very strong. 

It seems that UNICEF is helpless too. Even though it has a representation in Mongolia, UNICEF Mongolia, our children are still being put in harm's way. If UNICEF is helpless and cannot defend the rights of children as it declares proudly, one should not expect any positive results from all our governmental and non-governmental organization.  
Mongolia is one of the 196  parties, UN member countries, to sign the Convention on the Right of the Child, a human rights treaty. This Convention defines a child as any human being under the age of 18. Nations that ratify this Convention are bound to it by international law. So, Mongolia must follow this agreement too. But apparently  we do the opposite what in Article 19.1 of this Convention states, "Parties shall take all appropriate legislative , administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse..."
Compliance is monitored by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child but unfortunately it seems that the Committee does not do its job either. Every year in average 2 children would die and hundreds get injured! What other proof  does the Committee need? 
Governments of countries are required to report to this Committee on the child rights' situation in their country, but I am sure that our Government has been trying to whitewash the real situation. It must be some ways to enforce the Convention, otherwise it would be useless and become nothing but an empty declaration on papers. 

Here is one story telling about a child jockey who became a disabled person cause by the injuries after he fell from his horse during a race. Click  HERE  to read this story.
We should not talk about protecting child jockeys, i.e.  safety, instead we should talk about stopping using children as jockeys! Protective gears of any kind are useless. It is about the bone, flesh and body of a child who is in a very sensitive, fragile phase of its development and growth, and that needs to be protected by not risking their health and lives. 

In conclusion one can say that Mongolia is not doing anything to abolish this harmful to children practice, thus violating international laws and acts. In my opinion, the Mongolian Government and Parliament can be obligated to do something only if UN and UNICEF put pressure on them, otherwise all non-governmental organization and citizens are too weak to lobby against this practice. Also lots of citizens side with those horse owners and trainers who brainwash people with lie.
I urge UN and UNICEF to take necessary measurements to force our responsible bodies and help our children!

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