Jiraporn Laothamatas, head of the Advanced Diagnostic Imaging Centre (AIMC) at Ramathibodi Hospital, said Muay Thai has exposed children to brain injury risks due to a lack of proper regulations to prevent them from getting hurt.
It is estimated there are between 200,000-300,000 child fighters nationwide, with many – some as young as four years old – taking part in competitions, she said, adding that brain injuries are caused by direct blows that jerk the head back.
“Brain injuries caused by boxing can have long-term effects on the neurological system, leading to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. The injuries are accumulated over a long time and are hard to detect because children can lead a normal life for years,” she told a health seminar.
AIMC has conducted studies on 300 child fighters aged under 15 with two years to more than five years of experience, as well as 200 children who do not fight, Dr Jiraporn said.
The findings show that child fighters not only sustain brain injuries, they also have a lower IQ, about 10 points lower than average levels. Moreover, the IQ level also correlates with the duration of their training.
There must be better controls on child fighting to ensure they are not exposed to brain injuries which can also have long-term effects on their physical and mental development.
Children under 10 must be limited to non-contact sparring to develop technique only while those aged 10-15 must avoid head contact. Those aged over 15 should only fight in properly organised bouts and wear protective gear, she said.
Dr Jiraporn also pointed to a lack of protection as a possible reason why Muay Thai is shunned in certain countries. The paediatrician community in Canada, for example, rejects boxing as a sport for children and youth.
Adisak Phalitpolkarnpim, director of Child Safety Promotion and Injury Prevention Research Centre of Ramathibodi Hospital, said the law stipulates mandatory protection for young fighters, but this requirement is largely ignored.
Child fighting in Thailand violates every rule, he said.
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