updated 4/12/2005 8:12:57 AM ET 2005-04-12T12:12:57

The United Arab Emirates, under pressure to stamp out the use of children as camel jockeys, plans to introduce robot riders this year, newspapers said on Sunday.

“The mechanical jockey is light in weight and receives orders from the instructor via a remote control system fixed on the back of the camel,” the daily Gulf News said, quoting an official statement.

It said President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan was behind the initiative. The Gulf Arab state last month enacted new laws to crack down on the trafficking of under-16 camel jockeys, a practice internationally condemned as a form of slavery.

The paper said the first prototype mechanical jockey was tested Saturday and the first batch would go into service in August in the lucrative sport, popular among Bedouin Arabs.

Rights groups say several thousand boys, some as young as four, work as jockeys in the sport in the oil-rich country, many after being abducted or sold by their families.

They say the boys, mainly from the Indian subcontinent, are kept in prison-like conditions where they are deliberately underfed to keep them light so the camels can run faster.

New regulations also ban the use of boys weighing less than 45 kg (99 lb), a move aimed at preventing children being brought in on false passports with the wrong age.

International scrutiny has led the UAE to set up a rehabilitation center in the capital of Abu Dhabi for boy jockeys.

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