Boys compete in brutal Muay Thai kickboxing bouts in Thailand

Boys compete in brutal Muay Thai kickboxing bouts in Thailand where child professionals get $1,000 per bout – but have been known to pay with their lives

  • Muay Thai is Thailand’s national sport and draws in crowds of thousands across the nation for larger events 
  • There are significant dangers involved and children as young as thirteen have previously died in the ring
  • Experts have clashed for years over whether children should be allowed to compete in the brutal martial art 

These dramatic pictures show the brutal reality of child kickboxing bouts in Thailand where kids are paid up to $1,000 (£800) to compete.

The controversial matches, which are staged across the Asian nation, are hugely popular and draw in crowds of thousands when they are staged. 

However, the sport is also notoriously dangerous and has previously resulted in the deaths of young competitors.

Young Muay Thai boxers fight each other during a well-attended teenage boxing competition in the town of Lopburi, Thailand this month

Eight-year-old Muay Thai fighter Dech from Chonburi, Thailand lands a kick to his opponent’s chest during a tournament this month

Muay Thai is less regulated than other contact sports like boxing, which uses ‘two points’ (fists) and kickboxing, which uses ‘four points’ (hands and feet)

Only last month, a 13-year-old kickboxer died from a brain hemorrhage one day after being knocked unconscious during a match. 

Thailand’s Mahidol University published a study last month which said that allowing children under 15 to box could result in various types of brain damage.

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But Sukrit Parekrithawet, a lawyer who represents several boxing training camps, said fighters need to start young in order to develop ‘boxing bones’.

He said: ‘If you don’t allow younger players to learn their way up, how can they be strong and experienced enough to fight? ‘We call it ‘boxing bones.’ You need to have boxing bones built from a very young age.’ 

In 2016, 9,998 children under the age of 15 were registered with Board of Boxing under the Sport Authority of Thailand, according to Child Safety Promotion and Injury Prevention Research Centre

Muay Thai is enormously popular in Thailand and draws in crowds of hundreds and thousands from across the country

Children competing in bouts receive a maximum of $1,000 for their participation. Many compete with hopes of escaping from poverty

Muay Thai boxing is considered the national sport of Thailand, with a strong element of tradition, it is widely promoted as a means of keeping kids out of trouble, and lifting families from poverty especially in the rural areas

Defenders of child boxing argue that children need to start young in the sport in order to develop ‘boxer’s bones’ to defend themselves

Rigorous training regimes mean Muay Thai boxers have relatively short careers and must make as much money as they can while they’re young

A Thai monk offers a blessing to a young fighter before a Muay Thai boxing competition in Lopburi earlier this month

Thai fighters train daily with their coaches on Thai pads, focus mitts, heavy bag, and sparring. Each session includes many repetitive three to five minute rounds

Muay Thai fighter Narai Lek, 12, from Ratchaburi gets ready for his fight by stretching and having his coack massage his muscles in between matches

Young Muay Thai boxers practice in the boxing ring at the Sor Wong Sar camp on Monday this week ready for a big boxing competition

Muay Thai boxer Samsun, 11, works out during daily practice at the Nor Naksin Muay Thai boxing camp in preparation for one of the region’s largest competitions

Mangsun, 11, poses in the ring after winning his 32 kilo fight with a prize money of around $300 during a Muay Thai boxing competition

Coach Bancha says a prayer wishing his boxer, Nong Lek, aged 13, from Korat, good luck before his big fight earlier this month

Muay Thai boxer Samsun, 11, gets some mentoring from Japanese fighter Tarunsan during practice at the Nor Naksin Muay Thai boxing camp

Mek Noi, 14, holds his prize money of 5,000 Thai bhat ($152) after victory in his section of the Thai boxing tournament this month

Before the fight a young boy’s mother Amonrat talks to her older son Krai age 11, (center) as brother Dech age eight (left) also a kick boxer, offers him support

Muay Thai child boxer Puendum, 12, waits for his turn to train with the coach during practice at the Sor Wong Sar camp on Sunday

Muay Thai fighter Narai Lek, age 12, gets coaching in the middle of a fight that he is losing as his coaches frantically prepare him for the next round

While discussions on the participation of children in the martial art remains controversial, defenders say that comprehensive policies to protect youth participants with adequate supervision and protective equipment are all necessary to reduce risk

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