CALCUTTA, India (AP) _ Seventy Bangladeshis, including 38 children, started their long journey home today after being rescued from a smuggler trying to sell them into slavery in the Middle East.

The children, ages 4 to 7, were intercepted in August after police in India became suspicious of a man arranging air tickets for the group. He was arrested with fake travel documents for Dubai and other Persian Gulf countries.

Smugglers sell children for use as jockeys for camel races, a popular sport in the Persian Gulf. Women usually end up in brothels while men are forced to beg near mosques and pilgrimage sites. The usual route to the Gulf is via India and Pakistan.

``I was told I would get a house keeping job with a very rich family in Dubai so I collected money by selling whatever I could'' to pay the agent, said Julekha Bibi, 32. She paid the agent $1,000.

There are no firm figures on human trafficking from Bangladesh, but human rights groups estimate that 200 women and children are smuggled from the impoverished country daily, lured by jobs and dreams of riches. Most pay huge sums to agents to make the journey.

Mobarak Ali, a 40-year-old farmer, sold his land to pay the $1,500 demanded by the agent.

``Now I understand what a fool I am,'' he said. ``My first job now would be to warn the people about this racket.''

The group will be taken by train and road to Bangladesh's border, about 90 miles away, and handed over to officials there.

Under a 1995 law in Bangladesh, the maximum penalty for trafficking in women and children is death, but no one has been executed.