23 May 2024

When a 17-year-old recently confessed to throwing the body of her eight-month-old son into a canal and reporting him missing, she exposed huge flaws in Thailand’s three major social systems.

“This case proves that the country’s public health, education and social welfare systems are failing to protect and empower vulnerable youngsters,” said Thicha Na Nakorn, director of the Ban Kanchanapisek Vocational Juvenile Training Center.

She spoke up at a time when the public is busy pointing its finger at the teenage mother’s actions and accusing her of telling lies. The youngster is referred to by her nickname “Nim”.

“I’m not trying to protect the wrongdoer and am not ignoring the pain of the [infant] victim. But I want to bring much-needed attention to the root causes of these problems. If we don’t address them now, we will see more such cases taking place,” Thicha warned.

The center’s director is a veteran in advocating children’s rights and offering opportunities to young people who go astray.

What went wrong?

Raised in poverty in an unhappy family with parents who quarreled all the time, Nim suffered a miserable childhood. Her time at school also offered no reprieve from difficulties at home. She never built trusting friendships and was often targeted by bullies. So, when an older boy showed interest in her, she willingly embraced him and did what she could to ensure they would stay together. She even agreed when he asked her to perform sexual services with others in exchange for money.

Eventually, she dropped out of school after falling pregnant. She only learned who its father was when police ran a DNA test. The test results showed that Nim had not been impregnated by her 19-year-old boyfriend “Pud” but by her father’s friend “Jae”, who had paid for sex with her.

Nim now faces charges of recklessness causing her son’s death, hiding his body and trying to cover up her crime by not reporting it to authorities. Since she was a minor at the time of the incident, she will be tried in juvenile court.

The biological father of the child, meanwhile, has been charged with sexually violating a minor and taking her from her guardian. Police say he has confessed to the crime.

Nim’s boyfriend, now 19, is in custody and faces charges of procuring a minor for prostitution.

Reflecting on her past, Nim said: “I have never had a dream. Since childhood, I have never thought about what I would be when I grew up. All I hoped for was a job that would earn me enough to feed myself. I never dreamed of becoming a doctor or a nurse. I never looked that far. Just look at my house … I don’t think I can ever reach that point.”

If officials had intervened at the right time in Nim’s life, said Thicha, then things would not have gone this far.

“When she dropped out of school, officials from the Education Ministry should have paid attention. It’s them who should have reached out to Nim, offering advice on how to take care of herself during pregnancy and of the child after delivery,” she said.

When Nim went for prenatal care, officials from the Public Health Ministry should have followed up, she said. Given the ages of Nim and her boyfriend, it should not have been hard to realize that the couple would have a tough time raising a child.

She also faulted the public health system.

“We have heard that the Public Health Ministry has plans to help teenage mothers. But we never heard of Nim ever receiving the support she so badly needed from the government,” Thicha said.

She also lamented that social workers did not reach out to Nim, reflecting flaws in the working system of the Social Development and Human Security Ministry.

“Some people don’t know about their rights and thus don’t come forward to seek help. Hence, the state should actively reach out to these people. You can’t just demand that society takes action. You need to lead and engage to have a meaningful impact and empower people,” Thicha said.

Teenage pregnancy is bad, but lack of support system is worse

What is the lesson here?

Ekkalak Lumchomkhae, head of the Mirror Foundation’s missing persons center, is dismayed that officials from the Social Development and Human Security Ministry did not rush to help Nim when her complaint about her missing son went public.

“Nim is also a child in need of help,” he said. “I’m not trying to help her by building public sympathy, but I would like to point out that getting angry with her will not solve a single thing. Instead of just criticizing and hurling abuse at her, think of what she suffered and what led her to do what she did.”

Nim reportedly told police that her son slipped from her hands while she was bathing him and suffered a “seizure”. Afraid of getting into trouble, she said, she simply decided to get rid of his body in a canal and file a police report that he had gone missing.

Subsequent investigation, however, led to several shocking discoveries, not just about her crime but also about her life.

“Her case just reflects the damage that a broken family does and what teenage lovers face, among other things,” Ekkalak said.

Without prompt action from the relevant authorities, Nim suffered under the cruel and prying eyes of the media and the public.

“She’s not just a suspect, but also a victim,” Ekkalak pointed out.

What role did the media play?

Thicha said most media outlets tend to only report what is happening in society, when in fact, the media should also act as a guide for society.

“We believe media should encourage discussions on what creates children like Nim. If we don’t appreciate such creations and can’t accept them, then we need to tackle the root of the problem,” she said.

Thicha added that providing sympathy and understanding for Nim does not mean justifying her wrongdoing.

“All wrongdoers must face the consequences of their actions. They can’t go scot-free. However, our empathy should pave the way for them to heal and choose the right path later,” Thicha said.

Thailand is home to more than 22.8 million families, but not all have safe spaces for their children to grow, Thicha said. Hence, she added, the authorities and relevant sectors need to work together to protect and empower children so they can grow into quality adults.

By Thai PBS World’