Viral video of tiny Muay Thai fighters reemphasizes campaign against child boxers

Screenshot: Facebook/ Yuttapoom Khoonseuktragul
Screenshot: Facebook/ Yuttapoom Khoonseuktragul

A viral video of two child boxers, who look to be not much older than 5 years of age, has again raised the (surprisingly) controversial topic of stricter age requirements for boxing competitions.

In a Facebook video posted Saturday, the two fighters in the 16-17 kilogram weight group can be seen violently swinging at one another at the Mega Fight Boxing Ring in the northeastern province of Roi Et.

The post, which has already been viewed more than a million times and shared by thousands, resulted in two decidedly different points of view.

The first commends the boys’ bravery and strength, which, they believe, will help promote authentic national traditions like Muay Thai.

The second is one of strong disapproval, going so far as to say it qualifies as a form of child abuse.

Sadly, the pro-boxing comments vastly outweigh the latter.

On a national competition level, the 1999 Boxing Act requires all boxers to be at least 15 years old. Despite that fact, there are as many as 100,000 child boxers still active, according a recent Nation article.

Although they cannot compete in formal leagues, it is common for boys who grow up in the Muay Thai community to train from a very young age.

There have been increasing efforts to revise current law, particularly in the wake of research by Jiraporn Laothamatas, a neuroradiologist and director of Thailand’s Advanced Diagnostic Imaging Center (AIMC), who released her five-year study about the patterns of brain damage and memory loss in young fighters in March.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Jiraporn said she compared the brain scans of 300 child boxers under the age of 15 who had 2-5 years of boxing experience, with those of 200 children who had not boxed at all.

The findings indicate that repeated minor blows to the head can “stop the maturation of some functions of the brain,” Jiraporn explained.

“Cognitive function, memory, judgement, or higher brain function is not developed yet. When it gets damaged, it’s very difficult for them to further develop,” she said.

This can consequently cause memory loss and lower IQ as well as long-term effects to the neurological system, which can lead to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

At the end of last year, the Child Safety Promotion and Injury Prevention Center (CSIP) created a petition requesting that the Sports Authority of Thailand significantly toughen the 1999 Boxing Act, including preventing those under 9 years of age from engaging in actual fights during the course of their training.

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