The tradition of using children for horse-racing in Indonesia is outrageous
The training of children aged 5-10 years to become professional riders to participate in fierce races at Indonesian racetracks is widely condemned.
Boys riding horses with their bare feet, saddles, helmets with Hello Kitty-shaped helmets unsuitable to protect their heads and tracing charms under clothing for ancestor’s blessing, appear as “horsemen” really rush into the fierce race in Indonesia.
The closest thing the 8-year-old Firmansyah could remember to the race with the other two knights was equally small. Firmansyah clutched his horse’s mane and galloped to the point where his Isidia horse fell to the ground.
Firmansyah could not remember how many times she had banged her head on the wooden railing along the track. He also doesn’t remember how he was carried by a police officer on a motorbike to the clinic. And he had absolutely no memory of his uncle putting herbal medicine on his wound that night.
But when Firmansyah woke up the next morning, he announced that he was “feeling well” and ready for the race that day. Just a few hours later, Firmansyah appeared at the starting gate for another race of the 2018 Regional Police Chief Cup trophy. He had bruises on his body.
In the city of Bima on the island of Sumbawa, central Indonesia, training kids to become professional jockey is a long tradition. The age of jockey kids is on the decline, now they are chosen between 5-10 years old.
Child welfare advocates assert that abusive and exploiting children should be discarded. Child labor laws in Indonesia are rarely enforced. Many people here consider child jockey to be their family’s main source of income, which is accepted in one of Indonesia’s poorest areas.
Horse riding is a culture of the Sumbawa people. There, 4-year-olds learn to ride the short, healthy horses on the island. Horse riding is also a tradition in many families, child jockey grows up in families where brothers and their fathers compete.
However, not all horse racing children follow the family tradition. According to Arist Merdeka Sirait, president of the National Committee for the Protection of Children, a non-profit organization, they found children being taken to the track by men pretending to be their fathers.
“It is clearly a business based on the exploitation of children”, Sirait said. “The horses gallop very quickly while the riding boys are not equipped with suitable protective gear. This is violent behavior against children. As children, they cannot say ‘no’ to their parents. or whoever makes them ride”. According to Sirait, it is a crime and needs to be eliminated.
Despite these people’s appeals, the exploiters did not stop. Horse racing week is an event to attract tourists of the city. The stands were filled with spectators every weekend final. They came to cheer on the horse they bet on even though gambling is banned in Indonesia.
In every 300 races a week, the horse owner gathers bets on 30 jockey children and pays them only 50,000-100,000 rupiah for a race ($3.5-$7). When the horse-racing children advance to the finals, the owner can earn a million rupiah ($70), equivalent to half of the monthly minimum wage here.
Owners like Edy Poky, 42, who deals with local coal and rice, have more than 10 horses, are competing to win a reward of 482,000,000 rupiah (about $34,000).
One of the children’s jockey, Imam Dudu, 8, occasionally had to drop out of school to join the race. Dudu dreams of becoming a police officer and is racing with SpongeBob SquarePants and balaclava helmets. Imam’s mother, Tiara, 36 years old, said that horse racing provides income for the family.
As the children grow up, they can compete in neighboring islands, including Lombok – a popular tourist destination, where jockey children over 14 years old still participate in horse racing.