Child Labor Laws

“Buffalo Girls” and Child Exploitation

Brutal Child Fight Expositions Explored in Thailand

Sadly, the 2012 Sundance Film Festival has come to a close. Award-winning films depicted everything from mythological worlds to the war on drugs to Israel’s legal system. The film “Buffalo Girls” stood out in my mind, not for its cinematography or technical excellence, but for the heart-wrenching story captured by director Todd Kellstein.

Kellstein travelled to Thailand, where he watched two eight-year old girls compete for money as child Muay Thai fighters. Muay Thai is a combat sport that combines puches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes.

Thailand’s child fighters do not wear headgear or protective clothing when they enter the ring and can suffer broken bones and other injuries caused by blows to the face, head and body. Spectators place bets throughout the fights.

Child Fights Prohibited by United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children

In the United States and other developed countries, child fighting exhibitions are strictly prohibited by civil, criminal and international law.

Child labor laws, for example, prohibit the employment of children below a certain minimum age. Article 32 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that, “[We] recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.”

Buffalo Girls Trailer

Although Thailand was a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Thailand has recently voted against a national ban on child fight expositions.

Prize fights are not the only form of child exploitation that occurs in Thailand – there is still considerable concern over child prostitution and sweatshops. In fact, Kellstein argues that it is progress for girls to step into the fighting ring, rather than the brothel.

Criminal Penalties for Participation in Child Fight Expositions

In the United States, participation in child fights would lead to criminal charges for child abuse, gambling and other serious offenses. In Utah, the parents of child fighters could be charged with felony child abuse and reckless endangerment for failing to make reasonable arrangements for the safety of their children and for permitting others to inflict serious physical injuries on their children.

If a child died as a result of injuries sustained during a fight, the parents could additionally be charged with child abuse homicide.

What We Can Learn From From Thailand’s Muay Thai Fighters

So are Thailand’s child fighting exhibitions the newest form of child abuse and exploitation or an amazing display of the children’s commitment to their families? With divorce rates rising in the United States, perhaps we have something to learn from the Thai people, who are taught from the earliest age to be loyal to and provide for their families, no matter the cost.

As Kellstein noted, “[Thai people] have a real tradition of honoring the parents. It’s their obligation, even little kids, to know that they have to take care of the family no matter what. It’s ingrained in every single Thai person. The family is incredibly important. They’ll do whatever it takes to make sure everybody’s eating and has a roof over their head.”

News and Commentary