Unreported World: Kickboxing Kids, Channel 4, review: ‘shocking and disturbing’
The documentary following young Thai children forced to fight for money was palpably distasteful, says Jake Wallis Simons
April 25th, 2014 – by Jake Wallis Simons
I’m a big fan of Channel 4’s Unreported World strand, in which a team of reporters track down controversial stories from the most far-flung parts of the globe. This week’s episode, Kickboxing Kids, which documents the lives of young Thai children who are trained to fight for money, maintained the high standard to which viewers of the programme have become accustomed.
Mary-Ann Ochota, the presenter , was rather cheery to begin with. So when she was confronted by the sight of two seven-year-olds beating each other unconscious to the baying of a 1,000-strong crowd, she looked profoundly shocked.
Children as young as seven forced to fight for money in brutal Muay Thai bouts
Apr 22,2014 – by Mark Jeffries
A shocking new documentary will show how poor Thai children as young as seven are being forced to fight in the brutal sport of Muay Thai.
The bouts can leave kids brain-damaged, but adults gamble huge sums on their fights, and their families put enormous pressure on the kids to fight and win to help them escape poverty.
Unreported World on Friday night will show one child as he runs miles inside a rubber suit in 30-degree heat to make the weight for his fight.
Channel 4 reporter Mary-Ann Ochota follows 11-year old Nat Thanarak, one of the best child boxers in the North of the country where many families struggle for money.
Ask why he likes Muay Thai, he replies: “Because I get money. And it will make my village famous.”
April 25, 2014 by Ruth Styles
It’s a Saturday night in Sisaket, a small town in Thailand’s Isan province, and huge crowds have gathered around a makeshift boxing ring ahead of the big fight.
But the two promising fighters about to take to the ring aren’t your average boxers: Instead, they’re an 11-year-old boy named Nat Thanarak and his opposition – a 12-year-old called Nong Em.
Muay Thai is one of the toughest martial arts in the world and children as young as seven are paid to compete in vicious bouts that attract bets which run into thousands of baht.
Thailand has an estimated 30,000 child boxers but the impact of beginning a fighting career so young can be severe, with brain damage comparable to that seen in car accident victims and early onset dementia among the risks.
Despite the risks, it is not illegal for children to fight provided they have their parents permission. But although young fighters are supposed to wear padded clothing, in practice, they rarely do.
The Daily Telegraph – What to Watch
This quality strand exploring newsworthy topics from the developing world goes to Thailand to report on a sickening sport that is endangering its young competitors. Reporter Mary-Ann Ochota travels to the poverty-stricken province of Isan, where crowds gather to watch and bet on boys as young as seven competing in a brutal combat sport called Muay Thai – they punch, kick and elbow each other wearing boxing gloves but without any protective headgear. Despite recent research showing that Muay Thai fighters are likely to end up brain damaged, the sport remains a big draw for gamblers and spectators.
Ochota meets 11-year-old Nat Thanarak (left), a successful child boxer whose family rely on his winnings – as it is, his mother has to work in far-off Bangkok. Nat’s unemployed father acts as his trainer, which involves the boy undertaking four hours’ intensive exercise per day, late-night jogs on the hard shoulder of a busy highway and – alarmingly – roasting in a rubber suit in a closed-up car to make the weight limit before bouts.
Though young Nat insists he wants to keep fighting, his face tells a different story. The cameras follow the build-up to Nat’s big fight, which is horrific enough as he tries to shed three kilos beforehand. To watch children being exploited in this way is difficult, but this intelligent documentary is perhaps a first step toward shaming the Thai government into outlawing Muay Thai for children.
The Sunday Telegraph – Pick of the Day
This quality strand exploring newsworthy topics from the developing world lands in Thailand tonight to report on a sickening sport that is endangering its young competitors. Reporter Mary-Ann Ochota travels to the poverty-stricken province of Isan, where crowds gather to watch and bet on boys as young as seven competing in a brutal combat sport called Muay Thai – they punch, kick and elbow each other wearing boxing gloves but no protective headgear. Ochota meets 11-year-old Nat Thanarak, a successful child boxer whose family rely on his winnings – as it is, his mother has to work in far-off Bangkok. Nat’s unemployed father acts as his trainer, which involves the boy undertaking four hours’ intensive exercise per day, late-night jogs on the hard shoulder of a busy highway and – alarmingly – roasting in a rubber suit in a closed-up car to make the weight limit before bouts. VP
The Independent – Critic’s Choice
Mary-Ann Ochota travels to Thailand to document the lives of children as young as seven who take part in the brutal combat sport of Muay Thai. Gambling on these unpredictable fights is big business and the fighters face pressure from their families to win. Ochota hangs out with 11-year-old Nat Thanarak (left), as he prepares for the biggest bout of his career.
The Guardian – Pick of the Day
Unreported World 7.30pm, Channel 4 Muay Thai – better known as Thai boxing – is a graceful yet mercilessly brutal martial art popular among Thai gamblers and western tourists alike. The fighters start young – arguably, as this report by Mary-Ann Ochota suggests, way too young. She visits the training camps to meet the kids being schooled to become Muay Thai superstars, including the 11-yearold Nat Tharanak, whom she follows as he prepares for the biggest fight of his young life. Andrew Mueller