Would you let your child kick and punch for money?
Some of us look forward to the gravity defying kicking and punching action of a Muay Thai match whenever we head to Thailand, but will you still do the same if the main stars of the match are child fighters – as young as 6?
We’ve heard (or know) of parents who sign up their kids for martial arts classes like Taekwando, Karate and Judo. No, they’re not doing this to bring up the next generation of fighters.
The main intent here is to expose their kids to some form of exercise while learning the art and techniques of self defense (you’d never know when these skills might come in handy!).
But for parents of young kids in Thailand, it’s a totally different ball game altogether…
According to a news article posted on the Daily Mail, young ‘child warriors’ are forced by their parents to fight for money on the Muay Thai battleground, in front of a hyped up audience who have placed bets on who will win. The news article featured a series of eye-opening photographs in black and white, taken by German photographer Sandra Hoyn.
Hoyn was inspired to embark on this photo project after discovering this phenomenon when she visited Thailand in 2011. The most shocking thing that she found out was that that the practice of getting young kids involved in this form of full-contact sport was offered as a form of entertainment near the capital of Bangkok.
After watching the match herself, Hoyn decided to research into the practice further and spent 4 weeks documenting the journey with the children at their home, during training, and at competitions.
Hoyn shared that the worst part of her project was to see the pressure that these children had to go through. Not only are these kids ‘used’ as a very important source to earn money, it is also crucial that they win the fight – as their parents bet a lot of money on them.
Many parents from the rural regions in northeastern Thailand even go out of their ways and means to send their children to training camps in the capital of Bangkok and other major cities. This is to groom their kids to become good fighters in order to help the family financially.
The beginnings of Muay Thai
Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand with a 700-year-old history. Known as the ‘science of eight limbs’, Muay Thai uses eight points of contacts – hands, elbows, knees and feet – when punching in bouts of 5 rounds, with each lasting 3 minutes.
But do not underestimate the power of the kicks and punches in Muay Thai. According to the Dictionary of Martial Arts, “…fights are often brutal and contestants are frequently injured…Particularly devastating are the full-power kicks permitted to the legs, knees and thighs.”
Muay Thai was developed centuries ago as a way for Thai men to defend themselves without using weapons. Never-ending invasions from neighbouring countries back then have led to the people of Thailand to rely on hand-to-hand combat to defend their land.
Muay Thai in Thai culture
In Thai culture, Muay Thai is a part of life. Young boys and girls train from an early age. It is not uncommon that children as young as 6 take part in tournaments in front of hundreds of spectators. Televised fights are a huge hit among the locals; in villages all over the country. One can expect to see people gathering around any available television to catch the fight.
Despite the normalcy of using young children to fight in Muay Thai matches, here’s the bigger question that is bound to be in the minds of most parents: Why would anyone want to expose their child to such extreme dangers for the sake of monetary returns – and what does the law say about placing money bets during the matches?
The law on child exploitation
In the early 1990s, several human rights advocates claimed that having children fight for money in Muay Thai matches is a form of exploitation. It ran afoul of international child labour guidelines. In their efforts to curtail child labour and exploitation, Thailand signed the treaty of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992 – much to the disapproval from the Muay Thai community in the country.
The series of events was followed by the Foundation for Child Rights Protection Centre in Bangkok petitioning to the Thai government in 1999 to ban child boxing. The motion failed when villagers argued that the rural economy is bound to collapse without the ‘winnings’ from their child fighters.
To resolve this matter, the Boxing Act of 1999 – a rather watered-down law – was put in place which required only a parental letter of permission for children under 15 to fight.
The laws on gambling
In Thailand, although gambling is illegal and is punishable by a jail term of up to 1 year and a fine of 1,000 Baht, the practice remains widespread. In fact, it is estimated that 70% of Thai adults gamble regularly. The industry generates hundreds of billions of Bahts each year in exchanged revenues within the country’s borders.
But laws on gambling are regulated quite differently here in Singapore. Not only are the operations of gambling dens absolutely illegal and punishable by law, underground betting is also an offence prohibited by the Betting Act. To this end, only legalised organisations such as Singapore Pools are allowed to conduct public betting in Singapore.
Would you ever let your child kick and punch for money?
While almost every parent would give a flat ‘No’ as an answer in a heartbeat, there may be others who struggle to convey their stand on the issue.
Let’s face it. If given a choice, no parent in their right mind would ever want to subject their kids to something so painful and exhausting as a Muay Thai match – but what if this brutal sport is the only solution that could help the whole family overcome their less-than-favourable living conditions? After all, getting involved in Muay Thai matches is the norm in Thai culture, so should there still be any stigma attached to this practice?
Watch this video to see how young Thai children train and practice in preparation of the big Muay Thai match day – with hopes that their victory will be able to help their family financially…