updated 6/12/2006 5:52:33 PM ET 2006-06-12T21:52:33

More than 1,000 child jockeys smuggled into the Emirates to race camels have been returned to their home countries, government officials said.

The United Arab Emirates began enforcing a ban on child jockeys last year, after the State Department cited the country as a top destination for smuggled children who were being forced into camel riding. Some 20 smugglers have been prosecuted for trafficking in child jockeys.

“They are now a thing of the past, they no longer exist in the Emirates,” Deputy Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Saif al-Shafar said Sunday. “The UAE has helped 1,075 children from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, Mauritania and Eritrea return home after undergoing a rehabilitation program.”

Since the campaign, riders in lucrative camel races here must prove they are older than 18. The UAE, Qatar and other Gulf countries have also begun using small robots as jockeys, with camel owners using remote control to issue commands.

Lightweight robots allow more speed and stamina in the races, which are far longer and more endurance-based than horse racing, said Lt. Colonel Nasser al-Minhali, the chief government racing monitor.

This year, the State Department’s human rights report upgraded the Emirates’ status, citing the action on the child jockeys. The move also won praise from UNICEF and the Pakistani government.

But the UAE remains on the State Department’s Tier 2 Watch List because of continuing problems with women smuggled into prostitution and the abuse of low-paid foreign workers who underpin the country’s booming economy.

The State Department said the UAE does not take proper care of prostitutes who are trafficking victims, and instead simply jails and deports around 5,000 trafficked women per year. The country also needs to crack down on the gangs that traffic those women, the department said.

For its part, the Emirates’ official news agency on Monday lambasted Washington for what it described as human rights violations at its Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

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