Lt Col Rattaket Munmuang, Deputy Chief of the Phuket City Police, told The Phuket News that of the four children, three were found selling items at venues in Phuket Town and one child was found trying to sell items in a restaurant in Soi Ta-iad in Chalong.
He declined to give the names of the locations where police found the children selling wares late at night.
“They were around 7 to 10 years old. They were selling flowers, garlands and other items on the street to tourists and walking into restaurants at night,” Lt Col Rattaket said.
“They were found at inappropriate places for children. They would see alcohol and other things. It is a bad influence for children.
“People might not care about this type of case much, but it is not right for children. They should be at the right places, doing the right things,” he said.
The guardians of the four children – parents of some, along with a sister and a grandmother – were brought in to be questioned at Phuket City Police Station.
“We checked and these people are blood relatives of the children involved,” Lt Col Rattaket confirmed.
The guardians said they were unaware that having their children work late at night is illegal. “But I don’t think that is an excuse to use children under the age of 15 to work at night,” Lt Col Rattaket said.
However, unlike the human-trafficking case last month, which saw children forced to work all night selling coconut water in bars and restaurants or face being beaten, Lt Col Rattaket saw no reason to pursue legal action over the latest four children caught.
“We made a formal record and gave them a warning at the police station, but we did not charge them due to the circumstances involved,” he said.
But Lt Col Rattaket did call in child protective services.
“Officers from the Phuket Provincial office Social Development and Human Security came to talk with these children and their parents [sic]. The officials explained that if they allowed this to happen again, they would be charged for using underage children for work,” he assured.
Under Thai law, children under the age of 15 are not permitted to be used for labour, and children under the age of 18 are not permitted to be used for work between the hours of 10pm and 6am.
In each case of the latest four children found, the family situation was the primary reason for the hawking late at night, Lt Col Rattaket said.
“One child was being cared for by a single mother, and they are so poor they needed money to live and eat. Another child was staying with the father, who was left handicapped by a car accident. The others were from families who worked like this for a long time, without any education or awareness of the law,” he explained.
“Honestly, I felt so much pity for them, but I believe there is a correct way to support and help them, or maybe an NGO can help to explain to them and teach them to do something in a better way,” he added.
Of note, in the arrests of the four suspects last month for human trafficking offences, the families of the children themselves filed a formal complaint saying that the officers had no right to take the children into protective custody.
The five children taken into care by the authorities were all from poor families in Nakhon Sri Thammarat. Their parents had all handed the children over willingly to the gang arrested in the hope of their children helping to make money to pay for basic living expenses.
Yet it was not made clear whether the parents were aware of the physical abuse their children suffered if they failed to make enough money each day, but charges were pressed against only the members of the gang that operated in Phuket – not the parents. (See story here.)
Meanwhile, Lt Col Rattaket assured that Phuket City Police were taking the matter of child hawkers working late at night in bars throughout Muang District, which includes Wichit, Chalong, Rawai and Kata-Karon, very seriously.
“We are still working against the use of child labour in Phuket. If anyone sees any children, especially under 15 years old, working, please call 191 immediately. We will investigate right away,” Lt Col Rattaket said.
Patong Police Chief Col Anotai Jindamanee was not so forthcoming. He repeatedly declined to comment to The Phuket News about children in Patong selling flowers and other items to tourists late at night in bars and restaurants in the busy tourism town.
Patong Police Station was specifically chosen as the venue for the national press conference held by Lt Gen Jaruwat Waisaya, Commander of the Royal Thai Police Office of Legal Affairs and Litigation, earlier this month when he announced the arrests of the four suspects for operating the child hawking gang in Phuket.
“This will not be tolerated,” Gen Jaruwat said plainly.
Patong Police Chief Col Anotai last week was ordered to transfer out of Phuket to take up the post as the police chief in the restive Deep South district of Joh I-Rong in Narathiwat province. He is to cease his duties as Patong police chief on Dec 13, and take up his new post on Jan 1.
Col Anotai’s transfer came as all police chiefs in Phuket were ordered to new posts, either on the island or out of the province, under an order by national police chief Pol Gen Jakthip Chaijinda announced last Wednesday (Nov 27). (See story here.)