Andrew MacGregor Marshall reflects on what is wrong with Thailand’s annual “Children’s Day”.
Last Saturday, 14 January, marked the annual “Children’s Day” in Thailand. In most places around the world, a day dedicated to children would be a celebration of the potential of youth. Sadly, not in Thailand.
Tragically, the people of Thailand remain oppressed by a regime of elderly and inadequate men who are terrified of progress and believe obedience is more important than imagination and freedom.
Children’s Day in Thailand is a day of state-sponsored child abuse.
The main element of Children’s Day is that the army — which has never fought a real war against any foreign enemy but repeatedly crushes Thai democracy — invites kids into military camps where they can be brainwashed by being given lethal weapons to play with.
It would be unfair to accuse Thailand of being the only country in the world to abuse children in this way. North Korea does it too.
Meanwhile, at Government House in Bangkok, where an elected administration used to rule until the army seized power in 2014 in yet another coup, children are invited to come and pay respects to ludicrous life-size cardboard cutouts of military dictator Prayuth Chan-ocha.
It’s not just the military junta that exploits kids on Children’s Day — some establishments in Thailand’s vast industrialised sex industry also take advantage of the occasion. Take for example an advert for a Thai hostess bar in Bangkok offering a special schoolgirl cosplay event on Children’s Day. It’s widely known that tens of thousands of Thai teenagers — at a conservative estimate — sell sex in bars and brothels in Thailand.
Many of them have little alternative, because their parents insist on them earning money however they can, and the education system in Thailand is notoriously abysmal. Children are not taught any useful skills. They are taught to crawl on the ground and be obedient. Even at university, new students are routinely subjected to humiliating rituals of subjugation.
How did this society become so sick?
The reason is that Thailand remains dominated by an abusive and exploitative elite who are terrified of the ideas and integrity of young people. In order to entrench and legitimise their rule, this elite has tried to brainwash people into believing that it is “Thai culture” for the rich to exploit the poor, and the strong to abuse the weak, and the young to worship the old. Anybody who challenges this is vilified as unpatriotic and “unThai”.
For the past two centuries the elite have tried to deny democracy to ordinary Thais by claiming that they are not educated enough to be entrusted with the right to vote, and then ensuring that Thai education remains appalling, to try to stop people thinking for themselves.
Thailand’s new king Vajiralongkorn exemplifies the attitude of the Thai elite towards their children. Notoriously he abandoned four of his sons after he broke up with their mother in 1996, and despite the fact the Thai monarchy is the richest in the world, he refused to even continue paying for their education. They remain banished from Thailand. Here’s a letter he sent to their boarding school in the UK in February 1997:
The most important thing that Thais can do on Children’s Day is stop and think about the lies they have been taught. It is not “Thai culture” to abuse and exploit children, and force them to crawl on the ground, and try to stop them learning to think for themselves. Frankly, it is not even acceptable human behaviour at all.
It is warped and twisted and wrong, and it needs to stop.
Andrew MacGregor Marshall is a journalist, lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University, and author of ‘A kingdom in crisis’. This article was originally published on his Facebook platform, and can be viewed here.