Thailand's Child Boxers https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/ Thailand's Child Boxers Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing, is the national sport of Thailand - a demanding martial art where fighters use fists, feet, knees and elbows to strike their opponents. Many boxers start professional careers when they are just 7 years old, receiving 2-300Baht (4-6) to fight five rounds. https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938303 191938303 Professional child Muay Thai has come under fire for endangering and exploiting children Muay Thai has come under fire for exposing children to the potential lasting damage caused by frequent, powerful blows to the head. Doctors say the risks increase when children train and fight too intensively and too frequently. https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938304 191938304 Cultural heritage or child labour? Muay Thai is considered part of Thailand's cultural heritage; the techniques date back at least 700 years, transforming boys into strong, fearless men. But critics say that nowadays it's dangerous child labour which exploits vulnerable youngsters for profit. https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938310 191938310 "Baby Millions" fighters in Bangkok The dream is to make it to the big time fights in Bangkok - Promising stars Aekyala (13 years old, in blue) faces Mahwin (13 years old, in red) in the 'Baby Millions' fight series on Channel 9, televised across Thailand on a Sunday afternoon. Each boy was paid a 15,000 Baht (300) fight fee to take part, and their managers and coaches bet against each other on the outcome of the match. https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938305 191938305 Everywhere you look, kids are doing Muay Thai Those with talent are sometimes sent to residential boxing camps where they train and fight in exchange for bed and board, sending their winnings to their families. Many boxing camps are not registered or regulated. https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938306 191938306 Boxing Tournament in a paddy field Boxing tournaments are held every night of the week, at temples, festivals, fairs and stadiums. In Nong Tao village, in the north east of Thailand, a temporary boxing ring is set up in the dry paddy fields. Kid fights are the big draw and the organisers are expecting a crowd of thousands. https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938307 191938307 Kids fight with 'pure hearts' Spectators told us that they particularly enjoy child boxing matches because the kids fight with pure hearts: they don't hold back and they're less likely to have been bribed to throw the match. Child boxers will train before and after school, seven days a week, in order to fight competitively. https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938308 191938308 Knock out Many fights end in knock outs. This boy was later helped out of the ring. Boxers should have 21 or 30 days' rest between fights, but registrations are rarely checked and many fight more frequently than that. https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938309 191938309 Nat and his dad 11 year old Nat Thanarak and his dad, Watchara. Nat's so good his team struggle to find contenders willing to fight him. In a few days he'll fight the biggest match of his career so far - he will get a 4000 Baht (80) fee to take the fight, and both sides will bet the huge sum of 50,000 Baht (1000) against each other, winner takes all. In this area of Thailand, the average annual income is just 48,549 Baht (2011 figures). https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938312 191938312 Nat's morning run Nat runs 8 kilometres every morning before school. After school he does sparring, strength and fitness routines. The only days he gets off are three rest days after each professional fight. He has already fought 30 professional fights. https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938313 191938313 Boxers' brains are different A study by a team of doctors in Bangkok has shown that child boxers' brains are different to their peers: They have highly-developed spatial awareness, co-ordination and motor response areas, but reduced memory capacity and a lower IQ. They also have deposits of iron caused by bleeding inside the brain. The damage in some child boxers' brains is similar to children who've had car accidents or falls from heights. https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938311 191938311 The Contender The contender, Nong Em. 12 years old, 26 kg, he won his first professional fight at the age of 7 by technical knock out. He travelled seven hours with his family and managers to attend the fight against Nat. It's the biggest fight of his career. https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938314 191938314 Making Weight Controversial weight loss techniques are common practice in Thailand, for adults and children. 7 year old Pet Nam Aek is being massaged in a rubber sweat suit in order to help him dehydrate down to his fighting weight of 20kg. https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938315 191938315 Nat before the weigh-in Nat has never had to 'make weight' before. His target is to lose 10% of his body weight before the weigh in, dropping 3kg to reach 25kg. If he doesn't make it, the fight could be cancelled. https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938316 191938316 Gambling fuels this business Professional gamblers hire stools and step ladders so they can see the action and arrange bets with each other. There is no house bookie, so people make their own wagers directly with each other. https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938317 191938317 Athletes not labourers? Professional child boxers are considered to be athletes rather than labourers. It means Thai laws prohibiting children from working in places where gambling takes place, or in dangerous jobs, are not enforced. https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938318 191938318 Nong Em waits Nong Em oiled with herbal liniment and ready to go out to meet Nat in the biggest fight of his life https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938319 191938319 The fight Nat (blue) kicks Nong Em (red). Nat fights under the name Chalam Kao - White Shark - as he's fearless and fast https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938320 191938320 Five Rounds, the Art of Eight Limbs The boys fight five two minute rounds. Three judges score the bout, unless the referee stops the fight or there's a knock out. Muay Thai is known as the 'Art of Eight Limbs' as feet, fists, knees and elbows are authorised 'weapons'. Fighters should not show fear or fatigue. https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938321 191938321 The Gamblers' sign language Hundreds of thousands of Baht are riding on this fight. Gambling is what fuels pro youth fighting. Although authorised inside this stadium, most gambling in Thailand is illegal. https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938322 191938322 Powerful strike Nong Em (red) knees Nat hard in the gut - one of the most powerful and painful blows in Muay Thai. The audience is hooked. https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938323 191938323 Nat Thanarak, 11 year old prize fighter https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938324 191938324 https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938325 191938325 Reporter Mary-Ann Ochota at Nat's home in Sisaket Province, north east Thailand https://www.maryannochota.com/apps/photos/photo?photoID=191938326 191938326