(The following blog/article was published in The Nation newspaper on January 19. Here below, however, is the originally un-edited submission)
(Leading Thai Language Newspaper Headlines – Just After Children’s Day – “Students Chained To Tree By Teacher”)
Let’s first have a look at last week’s government motto for Children’s Day ‘To be united, well-disciplined, virtuous and always in search of knowledge’. Now, compare that to a leading Thai language newspaper’s report a few days after, which went “ School Assistant Director in Buriram chains pupils by the waist to a tree in front of the school and encourages all the other whipper-snappers to go and view the ‘strange animals’ and feed them water from a plastic dipping bowl”. As you can imagine, perhaps the government ought to start first with advising teachers on what is orderly behaviour instead of the kids!
Well, the media was full of groovy reports last week on all the Children’s Day activities and how morally decent such a time of the year is. Let me take the opportunity however, to have a look at the other side of the coin and tell you what a bit of a farce it actually is.
There is no other day of the year comparable to this one for local leaders, politicians and other influential people to get their propaganda machine into top gear. To really show just how much they care for young kids, these virtuous people lay on countless shows, exhibitions, games and free hotdogs in their local areas. The highlight of such events are the opening and closing ceremonies where these sponsors can get on stage and lecture all the youngsters on ethics and morals and explain that if they do ‘good’ and create positive Khamma, they might one day be as fortunate and important as them. Just the same old-fashioned nonsense they’ve been saying for the past 20 years. After receiving a standing ovation and getting the thumbs-up, the children can admire him walking out to his latest top of the range luxury car – an incredible man indeed who only earns 30,000 baht a month and adheres to the self-suffiency theory.
(Visit the army on Children’s Day – play on a tank, hold a machine gun and listen to nationalistic propraganda)
What a huge farce a lot of these scenarios are! A time for the kids to learn that it doesn’t matter where you get all your wealth; just make lots of cash, dress-well, speak politely and you will be a well respected person. Even the well-known local drug baron or local leader out on bail on a murder charge can get up there and preach righteousness. I mean, at the end of the day they must have been nice people once – the land’s Dhamma teachers say “Those who are super-rich in this life, must have created lots of positive Khamma in a previous one”.
Children’s Day events held in local areas are also fantastic places for schools to show how great their institution and kids are. I have even witnessed myself, at one school I was at for a while, the length the teachers went to proudly put on a show which was quite obviously orchestrated to show how superior they were to their local schooling competitors. Showing no empathy to the actual entertainers – the toddlers, the teachers had them up there, with the sun beating down, dancing away kitted out in cute dainty customs for two hours. You could call it child labour, but the kids are taught that if they do as they are told they will get better grades. Same goes for flamboyant nightly events such as re-union parties held at the actual schools – what’s the point in hiring any proper staff to wait on hundreds of tables when you may as well just ‘use’ your students!
Let’s have a quick look at some of the other wonderful events this year (as every year) arranged by the glorious armed forces. Wow! The kids had the superb chance to experience first-hand just how much the country needs an army with a budget comparable to that of North Korea’s. With memorable visions of the early post-coup days, the kids could climb inside tanks, hold machine guns and have their photos taken with the country’s hard-working protectors. Next up, they could also visit air-force and naval bases to have fun and listen to all the other nationalistic propaganda under the sun.
(A farce – just once a year, on national Children’s Day, governments pretend to care for hill-tribe kids)
Not forgetting the police of course, ‘well-disciplined and virtuous’, they also put on their own extravaganzas (pity though, they don’t have any tours of their squalid station cells) Ironic though, as it is the police who constantly turn a blind eye to child abuse – then again, when they ignore a drunken father who beats his kids day in day out, it is because they don’t want to interfere with ‘private family matters’. Same goes when negligent parents send there kids out to hawk garlands at traffic lights during the day and peddle chewing gum to foreign tourists until the early hours in the morning. Even though the cops know that this is now illegal, they just don’t care less – same goes for their attitude to road-side vendors who intentionally stock rubber solvents to knock off to homeless glue-sniffing kids.
Governments are no different went it comes to a bit of hypocrisy. Instead of it happening all the time, Children’s Day is the only time of the year when they can at least pretend they care for the needy. Take this year, the golden-oldies arranged events for the less fortunate (those who need far more attention), the likes of the Burmese, hill-tribes and stateless. The latter of event of which always receives very few attendants due to the fear of being arrested and incarcerated with their mothers. Reminds me, I didn’t read about event held by the government for all those very young kids who are behind bars in maximum security prisons as there is no other immediate relative who wants to take responsibility. It’s a shame that their plights weren’t shown on any TV Channel, but then again – who cares, they must have created bad Khamma in a previous life to deserve it.
(Some roadside vendors deliberately stock rubber solvents to sell to glue sniffing slum kids – the cops don’t care less)
Back to the education system, perhaps the bosses within that ought to ‘search for knowledge’ and realize that when it comes to children’s rights they are still living in the past. Here in the provinces, there is very little in the way of policies for the disabled or those with learning difficulties. The first of which can’t even attend school and as for any kid in the second group, even though he may only have the learning capabilities of a five year-old, he is tossed into any old class in Grade 6 and told to sit at the back and copy his friends work. Just for today, one other thing which needs to be seriously changed is the policy of booting out of school, high school girls who are found to be pregnant, even though the father of the child may be her step-dad. And believe it or not, the land’s girls’ schools can in theory, still throw out any female students who has been found to have engaged in an extra-marital rendezvous with some bloke down the road.
With that said, it is beyond doubt, that the first group of folk who ought to listen to any strategic Children’s Day motto directed towards the kids are the adults themselves. ‘United’, well everyone with bias tendencies, can start by learning that all people are the same, regardless to whether they are poor, uneducated, stateless or Muslim. ‘Well-disciplined’ a lot of wayward parents really ought to adhere to that one. ‘Virtuous’ well, the politicians who thought that word up, really ought themselves, to be the first to realize the meaning of that word. And finally ‘search for knowledge’, take notice teachers, school children don’t learn any such thing if you kick them out the door or chain them to trees.