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The Child Jockeys Of Indonesia


by Ayn Schumaker



Indonesia, a country known for its rich cultural heritage and breathtaking landscapes, is also grappling with a deeply controversial tradition – the use of child jockeys in horse racing. This age-old practice, deeply rooted in rural communities, has attracted significant attention due to concerns regarding child rights and welfare.


The tradition of child jockeys can be traced back to the colonial period when horse racing became a popular form of entertainment in Indonesia. Over the years, it has evolved into a highly competitive sport, particularly in regions such as Java and Sumatra. The small size and agility of children make them ideal jockeys, capable of maneuvering horses at high speeds.


However, behind the thrill and excitement of horse racing lies a dark reality. The use of child jockeys raises profound ethical questions and poses serious risks to the physical and psychological well-being of the children involved. It also highlights the challenges faced by the Indonesian government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in eradicating this practice.


The exploitation of child jockeys raises concerns about the violation of children’s rights. Child jockeys, often ranging in age from as young as five to fourteen, are subjected to hazardous conditions on the race tracks. They work long hours, endure physical injuries, and lack access to education and basic healthcare. These children are denied their right to a safe and nurturing childhood, instead thrust into a dangerous and demanding environment at an early age.


The physical and psychological risks faced by child jockeys cannot be overlooked. The children are exposed to the dangers of falls and collisions during races, increasing the likelihood of severe injuries or even death. Many child jockeys suffer from stunted growth due to the extreme physical demands placed on their bodies. Moreover, the psychological impact of the intense pressure and competition can lead to long-term emotional distress and trauma.


The Tradition of Child Jockeys

The use of child jockeys in horse racing has been deeply ingrained in the culture and history of Indonesia. This tradition stems from a combination of factors, including the small stature of children, the availability of cheap labor, and the belief that children bring good luck and blessings to the races.


In the rural areas of Java and Sumatra, where horse racing is most prevalent, families often face economic hardships. The prospect of earning money from their children’s participation in races becomes an appealing option for these families. It is viewed as a means to alleviate poverty and provide support for their basic needs.


This tradition primarily takes place in traditional horse racing events known as pacu jawi, which translates to “cow racing” in the local language. In these events, children ride bareback on pairs of bulls while the spectators cheer them on. Although unique to this region, this form of racing has parallel practices where children ride horses as well.


Child jockeys are trained from a young age to develop the necessary skills and techniques required to handle the horses effectively. They learn how to balance, steer, and control the speed of the horse using only basic reins. This training process often involves intense physical conditioning, including rigorous exercises and practice sessions.


While the tradition has deep cultural roots and is seen by some as a form of cultural preservation, it has come under scrutiny due to its ethical implications and potential harm to children involved.


Despite its historical significance, there is a growing awareness of the need to protect the rights and well-being of child jockeys. The focus is shifting towards finding alternative ways to preserve cultural traditions without compromising the safety and welfare of children.


Child rights organizations and activists are calling for a reevaluation of the tradition, advocating for the substitution of child jockeys with adult riders or implementing strict regulations to ensure the safety and fair treatment of child jockeys if they continue to participate in races.


The Impact on Children’s Rights

The use of child jockeys in horse racing raises significant concerns regarding the violation of children’s rights. These children are often subjected to hazardous conditions, denied access to education and healthcare, and robbed of their right to a safe and nurturing childhood.


One of the fundamental rights that child jockeys are denied is the right to education. These children are forced to prioritize their involvement in horse racing over their education, leading to a lack of basic literacy and numeracy skills. As a result, they are trapped in a cycle of poverty and limited opportunities for their future.


Additionally, child jockeys are frequently deprived of proper healthcare. The intense physical demands placed on their bodies, coupled with the lack of safety measures during races, make them vulnerable to injuries. However, due to limited resources and the absence of comprehensive healthcare provisions, these children often lack access to adequate medical attention.


Child jockeys also suffer from exploitation and abuse. They are often subjected to physical and verbal abuse, with reports of trainers and owners exerting control through harsh disciplinary methods. These children are deprived of their right to be free from exploitation and to be treated with dignity and respect.


The use of child jockeys also hinders their social and emotional development. These children are exposed to a highly competitive and demanding environment from a young age, which can have long-term psychological impacts. They may experience anxiety, stress, and trauma as a result of the pressure to perform and the risks associated with racing.


Moreover, child jockeys are denied their right to play and engage in recreational activities that are essential for their overall development and well-being. Their lives revolve around training and participating in races, leaving them with limited opportunities for leisure and social interaction with peers.


It is imperative to recognize and protect the rights of child jockeys. Efforts must be made to ensure that their physical and emotional well-being is prioritized, and that they are provided with opportunities for education, healthcare, and a safe environment.


Addressing the impact on children’s rights requires collaborative efforts involving the government, NGOs, communities, and the horse racing industry. By implementing strict regulations, providing support services, and promoting alternative forms of participation, it is possible to safeguard the rights of child jockeys and ensure their holistic development.


The Physical and Psychological Risks

The use of child jockeys in horse racing exposes these young individuals to significant physical and psychological risks. The demanding nature of the sport and the lack of appropriate safety measures contribute to a range of detrimental effects on their well-being.


Physically, child jockeys face the risk of severe injuries and even death. The high-speed nature of horse racing increases the likelihood of falls, collisions, and trampling. With inadequate safety gear and minimal protection, these children are vulnerable to fractures, concussions, and other serious injuries. The physical toll of racing often leads to long-term health consequences, including stunted growth and musculoskeletal problems.


The intensive training and race schedule put immense strain on the developing bodies of child jockeys. Many undergo extreme weight reduction methods to maintain a low weight required for racing, such as severe dieting or excessive exercising that can have serious consequences on their growth and overall health. These practices can result in malnutrition, dehydration, and chronic fatigue.


The psychological impact on child jockeys cannot be overlooked either. The pressure to perform and win, coupled with the intense competition, can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and emotional distress. Many child jockeys experience psychological trauma from accidents or witnessing injuries during races. They may also face social isolation and a lack of support systems due to their unique circumstances, further exacerbating their mental well-being.


Child jockeys often face emotional exploitation and abuse from trainers and owners. Verbal and physical harassment are common as a means of discipline or motivation. This kind of treatment can have long-lasting effects on their self-esteem, leading to a negative self-image and feelings of worthlessness.


The continuous involvement in horse racing also limits the opportunities for child jockeys to develop a well-rounded and balanced childhood. The demanding training and racing schedule leave little time for leisure, play, and social interactions. These children may miss out on essential childhood experiences, such as attending school, participating in hobbies, and nurturing relationships with peers.


Recognizing and addressing the physical and psychological risks faced by child jockeys is crucial to ensure their safety and well-being. Efforts should be made to establish proper safety measures, provide access to healthcare, and offer psychological support services. Educating trainers, owners, and the racing community about the consequences of employing child jockeys is also vital in changing attitudes and promoting the protection of these young individuals.


Attempts to Eradicate the Practice

The use of child jockeys in horse racing is a deeply entrenched tradition in some regions of Indonesia, but there have been notable efforts to eradicate this practice. Various stakeholders, including government bodies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and international initiatives, have been working towards raising awareness, implementing regulations, and promoting alternative practices.


The Indonesian government has taken steps to address the issue of child jockeys. In 2005, a law was passed that banned the use of child jockeys in official horse racing events. The law stipulated that only jockeys who were at least 16 years old and met certain weight requirements could participate. However, the effectiveness of this law has been questioned, as there continue to be reported cases of child jockeys being used in unofficial races and events.


NGOs and grassroots organizations have played a crucial role in advocating for the rights of child jockeys and working towards their protection. These organizations provide support services, such as access to education, healthcare, and shelter, to children who have been involved in horse racing. They also conduct awareness campaigns in communities, highlighting the risks and consequences of using child jockeys and promoting alternative forms of cultural expression.


International initiatives have also lent their support to the cause. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other international organizations have called for the eradication of child jockeys and have worked alongside the Indonesian government and NGOs to provide resources, expertise, and financial support. These collaborations aim to address the root causes of the practice and develop sustainable solutions for protecting the rights and well-being of child jockeys.


Efforts to eradicate the practice also extend to the horse racing industry itself. Some horse racing associations and clubs have implemented stricter regulations and guidelines to ensure child jockeys are no longer utilized. For instance, alternative practices such as using mannequins or lightweight robotic jockeys have been introduced as a safer and more humane alternative.


However, despite these endeavors, the complete eradication of the use of child jockeys remains a significant challenge. Deeply ingrained cultural beliefs and economic factors continue to perpetuate the tradition. Achieving lasting change requires not only the enforcement of stricter regulations but also community engagement, education, and economic support for families involved in horse racing.


Ultimately, a multi-faceted approach involving government intervention, grassroots efforts, and international collaboration is crucial for effectively eradicating the practice of child jockeys and ensuring the protection of children’s rights in Indonesia.


The Role of Government and NGOs

The government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play crucial roles in addressing the issue of child jockeys in Indonesia. Their efforts are instrumental in advocating for the rights of these young individuals, implementing regulations, and providing support services to ensure their protection and well-being.


The government has a responsibility to enact and enforce laws and regulations that safeguard the rights of child jockeys. In Indonesia, the government has taken steps to address the issue by passing legislation that prohibits the use of child jockeys in official horse racing events. However, authorities need to enhance their enforcement mechanisms and extend the scope of the law to cover unofficial races to effectively protect children from exploitation.


NGOs have been at the forefront in advocating for the rights of child jockeys and providing critical support services. These organizations work tirelessly to raise awareness about the risks and consequences of using child jockeys. They also offer access to education, healthcare, and rehabilitation programs to children who have been involved in horse racing.


NGOs often collaborate with government agencies, international organizations, and local communities to develop comprehensive strategies for eradicating the practice. They play an important role in conducting research, collecting data, and providing expertise to inform policy development and program implementation.


One aspect of the NGOs’ work is to provide assistance in transitioning child jockeys into alternative forms of engagement. This may include vocational training or educational scholarships to help these children acquire skills and attain a brighter future. By empowering children and their families with opportunities for education and economic stability, NGOs contribute to breaking the cycle of poverty that perpetuates the use of child jockeys.


Furthermore, NGOs engage in advocacy efforts to raise public awareness and promote social change. They organize campaigns, workshops, and community dialogues to address the cultural, social, and economic factors that contribute to the acceptance of child jockeys. By fostering dialogue and cooperation between various stakeholders, they create platforms for discussions and collaborative action.


International organizations also complement the efforts of government and NGOs in addressing the issue of child jockeys. With their global expertise, resources, and networks, these organizations provide financial support, technical assistance, and cooperation in implementing programs targeting the eradication of child jockeys. They also advocate for children’s rights at the international level and offer a platform for sharing best practices and knowledge exchange.


By working collectively, the government, NGOs, and international organizations strive to ensure the elimination of child jockeys in Indonesia, protect the rights of these children, and promote their holistic development. The collaboration between these entities is crucial in bringing about sustainable change and creating a society that upholds the rights and well-being of all its children.


Success Stories and Challenges

Efforts to address the issue of child jockeys in Indonesia have resulted in both successes and challenges. While progress has been made in certain areas, significant obstacles continue to hinder the complete eradication of this practice.


One notable success story is the increased awareness and recognition of the rights of child jockeys. Over the years, there has been a shift in societal attitudes, with a growing acknowledgment of the exploitation and risks faced by these children. This shift has led to the implementation of regulations and stricter enforcement, resulting in a decline in the use of child jockeys in official horse racing events.


NGOs and community-based organizations have also made significant contributions to the cause. Through their advocacy efforts and programs, they have provided support services and promoted alternative forms of cultural expression. By raising awareness and empowering children and their families with education and vocational opportunities, they have successfully transitioned many child jockeys out of the racing industry.


Furthermore, collaborations between government bodies, NGOs, and international organizations have yielded positive outcomes. The exchange of expertise, resources, and financial support has strengthened programs and initiatives aimed at protecting the rights and well-being of child jockeys. This collaborative approach has helped raise the issue on the international stage, leading to increased attention and support from global organizations.


However, several challenges persist in the fight against the use of child jockeys. One of the biggest hurdles is the deeply entrenched cultural belief that children bring luck and blessings to horse racing. Changing this mindset requires extensive community engagement, education, and long-term awareness campaigns to shift perspectives and challenge traditional norms.


Economic factors also play a significant role, as families involved in horse racing often rely on the income generated from their children’s participation. Poverty and lack of alternative livelihood opportunities contribute to the continuation of the practice. Addressing this issue necessitates the creation of sustainable income-generating activities and social support systems for these communities.


Another challenge is the enforcement of existing regulations. Despite the ban on child jockeys in official races, there are reports of child jockeys being used in unofficial races where regulations are not strictly enforced. Strengthening the monitoring and enforcement mechanisms is crucial to ensure compliance and the safety of child jockeys.


Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges, with many initiatives and programs disrupted or limited in their reach. The economic impact of the pandemic has further exacerbated the vulnerabilities faced by children involved in horse racing, as families face increased financial strain.


Overcoming these challenges requires sustained commitment and collaboration between government bodies, NGOs, and international organizations. It necessitates a multi-faceted approach that addresses the root causes, empowers communities, and ensures the protection and well-being of child jockeys. By continually learning from successes and addressing challenges, progress can be made towards the complete eradication of the use of child jockeys in Indonesia.



The use of child jockeys in horse racing in Indonesia is a deeply rooted tradition that has significant implications for children’s rights and well-being. While progress has been made in raising awareness and implementing regulations, challenges remain in eradicating this practice completely.


Children involved in horse racing face physical and psychological risks, including injuries, stunted growth, and emotional distress. They are denied access to education, healthcare, and a nurturing childhood. The role of government, NGOs, and international organizations is crucial in addressing these issues and protecting the rights of child jockeys.


Through collaborations, advocacy efforts, and support services, positive changes have been seen. Increased awareness and recognition of the exploitation faced by child jockeys have led to the implementation of regulations and a decline in their use in official races. NGOs have played a vital role in providing educational and vocational opportunities, empowering children and their families.


However, challenges persist. Cultural beliefs, economic factors, and enforcement of regulations pose significant hurdles. Overcoming these challenges requires engagement with communities, economic support, and sustained commitment from all stakeholders.


The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated vulnerabilities, underscoring the need for continued efforts to protect child jockeys amidst crisis situations.


In conclusion, the journey towards eradicating the use of child jockeys in Indonesia is ongoing. It requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses the root causes, educates communities, and provides support systems. Protecting the rights and well-being of child jockeys necessitates collaboration between government bodies, NGOs, and international organizations.


By working together, raising awareness, implementing and enforcing regulations, supporting alternatives, and empowering communities, we can create a safer and more sustainable future for these children. Every child deserves the right to a safe and nurturing childhood, free from exploitation and harm. It is our collective responsibility to ensure their well-being and protect their rights for a better tomorrow.