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Hunger in Thailand
Many nations in the Global South face famine and hunger, prohibiting much of the population from meeting appropriate nutritional needs. In addition to the ongoing crisis of COVID-19, many food security reports are seeing increased malnourishment. Major inequalities have compromised proper access to food—of the 815 million people around the world who suffer from poverty, 6.5 million of those are from Thailand. Despite being a major food exporter that meets both global and domestic demands, hunger in Thailand is prevalent and there is still a worrying amount of households facing abject poverty.

Thailand’s Malnourished Population

Compared to other poorer nations such as Myanmar and Malaysia, Thailand’s malnourished population is considerably high. With ample food production in the country, much of the country’s problems reside in the food being readily available to its people. An estimated 17 percent of Thailand’s population suffers from malnourishment. This could be a direct result of a number of social inequalities, ultimately increasing the people who experience hunger in Thailand. While experts often cite frequent natural disasters and wars as reasons for high food insecurity, there are many other underlying factors, including economic instability and disproportionate ratios of distribution.

Rice in Thailand

Rice, which is the staple export in Thailand, has increased in demand and production over the years, especially during the COVID-19 spread. Thailand had maintained a level of self-sufficiency through its hefty supply of various meats (i.e. beef and pork) and the large scale production of grains. The domestic demand for rice production has increased at a rapid rate that has fueled much of the country’s economy. The number of rice exports increased from 1.3 million tons in 1971-1975 to just about 8.14 million tons in 2006 and 2007. With this in mind, however, a majority of people experience hunger in Thailand, making the nation unable to meet its own nutritional needs.

Battling Hunger in Thailand

In 2017, the government instituted preventative measures to combat food insecurity and hunger in Thailand. The nation announced a social assistance program that would serve as a safety net for poor families. This move aims to improve Thailand’s food insecurity to land amongst the ranks of middle-income countries. The program provides cash allowances and other subsidies for an estimated 12 million low-income families.

To be eligible, families must meet five criteria: being at least 18 years of age; a Thai citizen; unemployed or having an annual income below $3,055; no financial assets worth more than 100,000 Bahts; and no real estate. Once families meet these qualifications, they receive welfare cards that they can use to purchase goods at registered shops and transportation systems, costing approximately $1.4 million. There have been many faults since the program’s implementation; for example, the program does not count some people eligible despite meeting the five criteria.

The social systems in the nation are shifting consistently, meaning that the struggle of hunger in Thailand is evolving rapidly. The economic state that COVID-19 has caused is likely to impact Thailand’s ongoing battle with hunger. There is no certain answer to the issues that will arise among the ongoing crisis. Hunger in Thailand, as well as many other nations, is a lengthy battle.

Brittany Adames
Photo: Flickr

Muay Thai for Children
In Thailand, children as young as 13 years old have died competing in kickboxing matches known as Muay Thai. Many children take part in this demanding sport because this is often the only way their families can climb out of poverty. Kickboxing matches in Thailand occur in rural areas and competitors usually do not wear protective gear. However, the deaths and life-long injuries that the sport has inflicted on competing children have inspired a debate on the dangers of kickboxing for children in Thailand. Here is some information that contextualizes Thailand’s debate on Muay Thai for children.

The Current Situation

Currently, the debate over Muay Thai for children has led legislators in Thailand to consider proposals that may raise the age or facilitate using more protective gear for fighters. A major risk for competitors is brain damage or death. On the other hand, families in rural areas oppose this proposal because it could jeopardize their ability to put food on the table. Child kickboxers in Thailand can win up to $150 SDG in one match, the equivalent of about $111 USD if they are professional fighters or are competing in a prestigious competition. For small bouts, in which most Thai children compete, the pay is far less, with the maximum being the equivalent of $60.

Although $60 may seem like a trivial amount, for some families, this sum makes a significant difference in their lives. These winnings are equivalent to almost half of one month’s salary in rural and impoverished areas. Hence, many of the child fighters in Thailand find themselves in matches to ensure they make enough money. Another avenue is to start competing at a very young age so that by the time they are teenagers, they may be able to generate enough income as a professional fighter in Muay Thai.

The Price They Pay

Alongside the newly earned money from Muay Thai competitions, there are still prices the families and children of Thailand have to pay. The competitors and their families must face the constant reality of death and brain damage. According to a study by Thailand’s Mahidol University, permitting children under 15 to box could result in various types of brain damage, such as brain hemorrhages, which could lead to stroke-like symptoms or death if the fighters succumb to the injuries. No matter their age, the lack of protective gear for the fighters prevails as the major cause of injuries during competitions.

The Government’s Response

In response to the recent deaths and the brain damage that has taken place among the youth of Thailand, legislators have found themselves drafting bills that will bar children from participating in Muay Thai kickboxing matches if they are 12 or under.

Currently, the only measure in place to offer safety towards children who kickbox is that boxers must be 15 or older to compete. However, younger fighters are still able to engage as long as there is parental permission, which is why many young children are losing their lives to the sport as there are no enforced restrictions.

What Must Change

A solution to ensure that child fighters remain safe while making a steady income for their families may be for fighters aged 15 or younger to use headgear. Through the debate regarding Muay Thai for children in Thailand, it may be valuable for kickboxing enthusiasts to understand that while including headgear may not provide the same entertaining result, it is vital so that children may win the money necessary from their competitions while also being protected from trauma to their still-developing brains.

Gowri Abhinanda
Photo: Flickr