Children Are Still Fighting Muay Thai — Even After the Death of a Young Boy

Fans and families like things the way they are.

MAHA SARAKHAM, Thailand — After a 13-year-old died from a knockout in a match last November, officials proposed a law to ban kids under 12 from Muay Thai fighting. But even the governor of the Sports Authority, which enforces sports law, isn’t so sure it will pass.

There’s too much at stake.

Muay Thai, after all, is the national sport, deeply embedded in the culture, and any suggestion that changes be made — even for safety’s sake — is enough to enrage athletes, coaches, and especially fans. Families get their kids into the sport at a young age, and going to watch the matches is a big pastime. But for some kids, Muay Thai is also a way to support their family.

Dao Tai Chew, 13, lives in Bangkok with his grandmother. If he can win a fight, he can make enough to pay rent for a few months. But it’s not only about money for current expenses – some kids start early to improve their chances of creating a career as a professional fighter.

Doctors in Thailand have published several studies showing that allowing children to participate in Muay Thai fights is dangerous, and can lead to reduced brain function as they grow older.

While the national conversation in Thailand swirls around whether kids should be allowed to fight, VICE News went to Bangkok to talk to two young fighters, aged 10 and 14, who are continuing to step into the ring.

This segment originally aired June 14, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.