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Thailand

Death of 13-year-old boy from brain haemorrhage inflames debate over Thailand’s young Muay Thai fighters

  • Anucha Kochana was pronounced dead on Monday after getting knocked out in a match on the outskirts of Bangkok on Sunday evening
  • The sport is governed by few rules – children of any age can box in an organised match – leaving them at risk of severe injury, or worse
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 8:22pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 12:00pm

The death of a 13-year-old boy, knocked out during a Thai boxing match, has inflamed debate about whether children should be allowed to take part in a dangerous sport that many of them see as their only chance of escaping poverty.

Anucha Kochana was pronounced dead from a brain haemorrhage on Monday after he was knocked out in a match on the outskirts of Bangkok on Sunday evening.

Thai boxing, or Muay Thai as it is known, is a passion in Thailand with millions of boys dreaming of glory in the ring, and a life of riches for them and their families, that success can bring.

But the sport is governed by few rules – children of any age can box in an organised match – leaving them at risk of severe injury, or worse, as Anucha’s case has shown.

The boy’s grieving relatives told media that they would not press charges over his death.

But legislators appointed by a military government have already been looking to tighten regulations to ban children under the age of 12 from professional bouts.

Yet the effort is opposed by many in the boxing community.

“Those aged 12 to 15 will need to be registered, have the permission of their parents and wear protective gear for professional fights,” said General Adulyadej Inthapong, vice-chairman of the National Legislative Assembly’s committee on sports, referring to the proposed law.

The change in the law is being delayed because the industry makes a lot of money from child boxing
Jiraporn Laothamatas, neuroradiologist

Footage of Anucha’s last fight posted on social media shows the boy, without any protective gear, getting punched repeatedly in the head before falling down and banging his head on the mat.

Somchart Charoenwatcharawit, president of the Professional Boxing Association of Thailand, said the proposed changes would hurt the livelihood of an estimated 300,000 child boxers under the age of 15.

“The new rule … will hurt the children and their parents who earn tens of thousands of baht from boxing in what is a national sport,” said Somchart.

He said the referee on Sunday should have stopped the fight when Anucha looked groggy and the match did not meet his association’s standards.

The association thinks the minimum age for boys taking part in organised bouts should be 10, he said.

Muay Thai child fighters put their health on the line for gamblers and hope of a better life

Jiraporn Laothamatas, a neuroradiologist and director of the Advanced Diagnostic Imaging Centre, has studied the damage that boxing can inflict.

Her research has fuelled the push for change but she says even the proposed minimum age of 12 for competition is a compromise that she disagrees with.

“If I had my way, the minimum age would be 18,” she said, while acknowledging that Muay Thai is an important source of income for many, as well as being culturally important.

“The change in the law is being delayed because the industry makes a lot of money from child boxing. It will take some guts for the government to push it through.”