Punching out of poverty: Despite risks, nine-year-old Thai fighter eager to return to ring

Tata’s income from fights is a vital resource for his family

<p>Pornpattara Peachurai, known as Tata Por Lasua in the ring, trains at a gym in Bangkok</p>

Pornpattara Peachurai, known as Tata Por Lasua in the ring, trains at a gym in Bangkok

Nine-year-old Thai kickboxer Pornpattara “Tata” Peachaurai is eager to get back in the ring after coronavirus curbs brought his fight season to a halt more than five months ago.

The money he earns is vital income for his family. “All the money from boxing, the regular payment and the tips, it all goes to mum,” says the lean young fighter.

“I’m proud to be a boxer and to earn money for my mum.”

Tata’s last fight was in October, before a second Covid-19 outbreak in Thailand shut down sports events as bans on large gatherings were reimposed. “I cannot box. I haven’t practised boxing, too ... I help my mum sell things.”

Tata stands in the ring before a fight

Tata receives a tip from a supporter after winning

Tata lives with his mother and 16-year-old sister, Poomrapee, who is also a boxer with the national youth team.

The family is banking on Tata’s earnings as a way out of poverty and hopes he can make it as a professional muay thai fighter, or represent the police or army in the ring and be rewarded with higher ranks and bonuses.

Tata’s mother, Sureeporn, reacts during one of his fights

Tata celebrates after winning a boxing match

“He usually gives his income to mum,” says Tata’s mother, Sureeporn Eimpong, 40.

“Sometimes he asks for some toys after a fight.”

Child fights in Thailand can be as popular as adult bouts and take place at tournaments, festivals and temple fairs. There are an estimated 300,000 boxers under the age of 15, according to the Professional Boxing Association of Thailand.

Tata tries to sleep as his sister uses a mobile phone at their home inside a gym in Bangkok

But some medical experts are calling for a ban on boxing for minors, saying it could cause stunted growth, long-term neurological problems, brain damage and disability.

Parental consent is the only present requirement for child boxers.

“I’m not worried about boxing,” says Sureeporn, adding that boxers are trained to protect themselves.

“There are not a lot of injuries in child boxing. I am confident in the system.”

Tata trains at a gym in Bangkok

Child muay thai boxers train at a boxing gym in Chachoengsao province

But the system doesn’t always work.

In 2018, Tata fought in the same tournament where a 13-year-old boy died of a brain haemorrhage after being knocked out in the ring. Sureeporn says the referee had been too slow to intervene.

Adisak Plitponkarnpim, the director of the National Institute of Child and Family Development at Thailand’s Mahidol University, is part of a research team that did brain scans on 250 child boxers, some of which showed extensive damage that could impact brain development and intelligence levels.

Boxers jog together to lose weight before their matches

Thantap Wor Uracha, nine, and Sanchai during a fight

“Boxing creates brain injury as we can see clearly in the older boxers,” Adisak says.

“The parents who rely on income from their kids at the age of eight or nine years old should ask themselves what they are actually demanding from them.”

Some Thai lawmakers have sought to ban boxing for those under the age of 12, but a draft bill failed to reach parliament and would likely have faced resistance because of the popularity of child fights and the revenue they generate.

Yodpetch-eak and Bensin during a fight

Muay thai boxers pose for a photograph at the Rangsit Boxing stadium

Sureeporn says boxing is her son’s life. “I’m from the lower class and I just make enough money to survive and don’t have savings or fancy homes,” she says.

“The future of Tata is in boxing.”

Photography by Athit Perawongmetha, Reuters

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