Fighting For Survival: Thailand’s Child Boxers
Last week I was watching ABC News 24 when they aired a report about child boxing in Thailand. Yikes. The report centred around a new documentary ‘Buffalo Girls’, by film maker Todd Kellstein, following two Thai eight year old girls who fight to support their families, keep food on the table and rooves over heads.
It was totally eye-opening and confronting, revealing that there are no guidelines for child boxers under the age of 15 (apart from parental consent) and showing fairly graphic and disturbing footage of kids punching the crap out of each other in the ring, much to the delight of a cheering audience. Jeepers.
Of course, boxing is a huge part of Thai life, so in Thailand it doesn’t seem so unusual for kids to be taking part in a sport which we might find alarming. However, the ABC report featured an interview with a doctor who detailed the worrying impact repeated blows to the head can have on still-growing brains. (Note the lack of protective head gear.)
This is such a confusing issue. On one hand, young people need to be protected from injury and exploitation. But on the other hand, this is a sport which is held in high esteem in Thailand, and these children talk proudly about winning money to support their families. It’s completely shocking for me, sitting in my Melbourne lounge room, to see children hurting each other for money, especially tiny girls. But I’m completely aware of the fact that if they didn’t box, their families would go hungry. I’m not sure how to reconcile this at all.
(Please note this footage might upset you : it made me cry)
Filmmaker Kellstein watched hundreds of these child boxing bouts, and says that the injuries sustained are no worse than in US Little League football. ”Is it justifiable what they do? I’m saying for them personally it is justifiable because it’s what they need to do. What’s not justifiable is that the world we live in has such huge economic disparity that people are forced to take those kinds of measures.”
On seeing his first bout, Kellstein said “I thought it was horrible child abuse. I wanted to make a film that would create awareness and make it end.” But after three years in Thailand: “It’s really not our business to say what people in other cultures should or shouldn’t do.”*
Did he develop a deeper understanding of a sport and culture which sees 30 000 kids competing in village tournaments every weekend across Thailand. Or did he just become a bit desensitized?
I don’t know.
Whichever it is, I don’t like it. I wish there was another way. I don’t want to be culturally insensitive, but I think there are many other cases of practices deemed ‘culturally appropriate’ actually being far from okay. At the same time, however, I understand that cultural differences and financial necessity make this an essential and highly regarded part of some families’ lives. (And it’s very plain to see that these kids are proudly working hard to create better lives for their families.)
My high horse is probably best left in the stable on this one, but I REALLY don’t like child boxing. I want to know how we can support families like this, so their kids can have more peaceful lives.
What are your thoughts?
*Part of the proceeds from ‘Buffalo Girls’ will go to support the families featured in the film
Images are stills from the film Buffalo Girls