11 November 2014

Buffalo Girls and Human Rights

I watched the documentary, Buffalo Girls, with my parents the other day. It highlights the lives of two 8 year old child boxers in Thailand, Pet and Stam, and their rivalry, which stems from their desire to gain monetary profits from the fight for their families.

Initial reactions? I felt angry with the parents of both Stam and Pet, the referee, the fight organizers, but mostly the government.

I was angry, still am angry, at their parents because while I admire their desire to teach their children the value of hard work and earning the things you want in life, I don't think it should include the destruction of growing brain cells for monetary gain. Child boxing might bring honour to the family, to the winner's community, and money. It seems to be a way of life for many poor families in Thailand. From a distance, it's easy for me, a privileged, slightly middle-class person living in the West, to make judgments on the situation of child boxing, the same way that it's easy to do so for the issue of child labour, but I have to remember that we are looking at the situation from a different moral standpoint, a different system of ethics. I have to remember that, like child labour, child boxing might be the only way of supplementing very low incomes, of escaping from deepest poverty. I also have to remember that ignorance and lack of education is a huge factor in why these practices continue. I want to believe that the parents don't know that multiple hits to the head could permanently damage the processing power of their childrens' brains. Then again, maybe they place higher priority to different things than we do. Perhaps the honour of fighting and gaining money is more important than brain and body health, or even life.

Regardless, I could cast aspersions all I want, but the reality is, we are just as guilty of allowing bad things to happen to our children here. Parents allow their kids to play hockey, for example, which is highly susceptible to head injuries. And I can imagine that parents here also gamble on the outcomes of their kids' matches, even if just among their friends. So what right do I have to stand over the parents of these child boxers and make judgments? It is hard to protect the human rights of children when food and shelter, the bases of our hierarchy of needs, is unstable. I remember writing in a post long ago that when the bases of our hierarchy of needs are being met, then, and only then, are people able to think of things like environmental concerns, children's rights, etc. Without a solid base, people tend to focus on just surviving and meeting their basic needs before all else. And so, I reiterate, how can I, a privileged person who doesn't have to think too hard about where my next meal is coming from, and where I am going to sleep for the night, dare judge the decisions of people who do think about these things on a daily basis?

All I know is that I want these children to be safe and healthy, and that ultimately, governments are the ones that need to change.

Reactions after the film? I still feel angry, regardless of what I've written above, but I know that there are no easy answers. The film itself does not offer any solutions, or thoughts on the issue, which was perhaps deliberate on the director's part, since there are no easy answers.

Final verdict? The film was okay. It is easy to feel very strongly for both of the child boxers and their situations. The people, the locations, the way of life in Thailand also reminded me of how similar it is to life in the Philippines. In a way, it made me feel nostalgic for my place of birth, since I haven't been back in a long time. The film definitely opens our eyes to what is happening in Thailand, but at the same time, I would have liked the film more if they had included a little bit of the history of child boxing in Thailand, how it came about and when.
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