6 October 2005

Kenya Bahraini Fuels Debate

Nairobi — Athletics Kenya chairman Isaiah Kiplagat has termed the exodus of Kenya's youth runners to Middle Eastern countries as human trafficking and has called for action to be taken against the people responsible for it.

This follows protests by parents of a now Bahraini youth runner who apparently switched nationalities without their consent.

"The parents should disclose to us the people involved, give us full details of how the boy went away then we can take up the matter together with the government," Kiplagat said.

Lawrence and Sarah Kosgey, the parents of Ali Mensoor Belal, formerly John Yego told the Nation in an exclusive interview on Tuesday that their son had became a Bahraini citizen without their authority.

The parents said they had not given their son, who is 17 years-of-age, to any party to act as his legal guardian.

But Belal's manager, Barnabas Korir, charged that the parents had helped the son change his nationality.

"We are not in the business of changing nationalities. We are in the business of managing athletes. The athlete (Belal) changed his nationality with the approval of the parents and they know it."

Kiplagat said action needs to be taken against unscrupulous agents who were now targeting young runners.

He admitted the practice had grown, was intricate and had prompted IAAF to declare that it must be stopped.

Several runners appearing for Qatar and Bahrain in the under-18 World youth Championship in Marakech, Morocco in July were of Kenyan origin.

Edward Ouma, an officer with the NGO Children's Legal Action Network (CLAN) said it was illegal for a child to change citizenship without the signed approval of the parents.

"If you are a minor you cannot change nationality unless you get parents' consent. Otherwise it would be criminal," Ouma said.

Belal, is no doubt, the most prominent Middle Eastern young import following a fine run in the 1,500m that secured him a gold medal at the expense of his more fancied former compatriots.

Korir, who manages several athletes, discounted the notion that juniors who defected to the Middle East earned a lot of money.

"There is a misconception that when you go to Bahrain or Qatar you make sacks of cash. The juniors are not paid any money. We just arrange for them to participate in a race and make sure they are kitted."

Sports Minister Ochilo Ayacko instituted a probe committee headed by Kenya National Sports Council chairman Joshua Okuthe in June to investigate. The committee has yet to submit its findings.

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