Montri Sintawichai: Controversy erupts over Thailand’s ‘guardian angel of children’

Montri Sintawichai

For the last four decades, Montri “Khru Yun” Sintawichai has been known as the “angel of child protection” – but that changed recently. Now, he is facing charges of child abuse, child labor and even human trafficking.

“I’m hurt, but I’m not going to give up social work,” said the 64-year-old, who denies the allegations made against him.

Montri’s rise to fame

After graduating from Srinakharinwirot University’s Faculty of Education in his early 20s, Montri began addressing children’s issues almost immediately.

He was inspired to serve the underprivileged after noticing the tragic lives led by street children in Bangkok’s Sanam Luang area. Some had run away to escape domestic violence, some were simply neglected by their parents and some had been lured into child prostitution.

Montri first made a difference by encouraging friends to start feeding the children and giving small groups of them lessons.

After six years, he believed he could offer more help by expanding his efforts. So in 1991, he rented a three-story rowhouse in Bangkok’s Lat Phrao district and named it the “Home of Child Protection”. The house offered destitute children a roof over their heads, at least three meals and a guiding light.

Montri became the founder of Thailand’s very first shelter for abused children.

Ashoka, an international organization that builds and cultivates community aid, young changemakers and changemaker institutions, listed Montri as one of its fellows in 1995.

When Montri’s work caught the media’s attention, donations began flowing in. Thanks to this financial support, he was finally able to relocate the shelter, renamed the Child Protection Foundation, to a spacious complex in Samut Songkhram’s Amphawa district. The new complex features two buildings and a large green area.

In 2000, Montri was also elected as a senator in Samut Songkhram.

The child activist’s fame spread across the nation and even overseas after his life and work were featured in both Thai and foreign media, including CNN.

Why infamous?

It came as a shock when several children at the Child Protection Foundation spoke up in late October to claim they were physically assaulted and forced to work at a resort. They reportedly shared their plight with young volunteers visiting from another charity foundation “Zendai”.

Their complaints soon reached the authorities. When officials from the Social Development and Human Resources Ministry showed up to investigate, more than half of the 55 children under the foundation’s care declared they wanted to leave.

The Samut Songkhram committee on child protection has resolved not to renew the license held by the Child Protection Foundation to operate a child shelter. The license is set to expire in January.

What Montri has to say

Foundation secretary-general Montri and his wife have been charged with child abuse, child labor and human trafficking. Both say they are innocent and will fight the case in court.

“I never tormented the children,” Montri insists. “I only hit them as a punishment. For instance, some older children once took younger children to the river even when they could not swim. That’s too dangerous.”

Former senator Kaewsan Atibhoti, who chairs the Child Protection Foundation, has fiercely defended Montri. He says Montri refused to give up on the children under the foundation’s care even when they defied orders, stole money and used drugs.

“He has taken up the role of a father. So, he thinks he can scold and cane them if they get out of hand,” Kaewsan said.

Examinations of the children found no obvious marks indicating physical assault.

As for the youngsters being made to work at a resort, Kaewsan said Montri ran a small resort in the hope of raising extra cash for the child shelter. He said none of the children were forced to go work there, but some went there to earn tips from guests.



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