Thailand’s Posing Tribal Children

While visiting Wat Phra Tat Doi Suthep north of Chiang Mai, we discovered a relatively large number of very young Akha and Miao children who had been dressed up and strategically positioned around the monument to make some not-so-quick cash off Thais and foreigners alike.

Well-intentioned tourists will often snap some cute pictures of the kids and hand them some Baht without really asking themselves some basic questions: How long has this tiny child been forced to sit here? Has this child been pulled out of school to beg for money because the parents value quick cash over education? Why is the parent not sitting here dressed up in “traditional clothing” rather than the child? Am I indirectly contributing to the cultural marginalization of minority children by teaching them that begging is a sustainable lifestyle?

Yes, many minority groups around the world lack education and real opportunities for work, and as we mentioned in our Paduang post in Myanmar, sometimes the commercialization of “traditional culture” may be the only real survival strategy. But it’s worth taking a second to reflect a little on how these kids are being treated before rushing to snap some cute pictures.

The shot above was taken from a distance while a young Akha girl was trying to convince a tourist to cash up. We chose not to participate in this particular cash-for-photo scheme.

6 responses to “Thailand’s Posing Tribal Children”

  1. avatar bob says:

    So basically you took her photo and stiffed her for the money. Real classy.

    • avatar Tony says:

      Absolutely. And if by classy, you mean not encouraging child labor and child exploitation, then – yes – we are classy. If we had given her money, this would have been encouraging her parents to stick her out on the steps the following day. If tourists refused to pay for such shots, this kind of crap would not continue.

      Actually, at the precise moment I was shooting this shot, I was photographing roof ornamentation with a telephoto lens and I noticed how she was quite aggressively pushing a tourist (who was arguing back with her) for money. I was standing almost 30 feet away when I took it.

      I also would like to point out that I could have posted an oh-so-typical “isn’t this a cute Akha kid” post. But instead, I chose to discuss the reality of the situation.

  2. It’s difficult to find a place on this planet free of some type of tourist-aimed income generation strategy.

    • avatar Tony says:

      There are still many. But they don’t tend to have huge world famous temples in them. 🙂

      To be fair, I don’t expect people to avoid making money from tourists. I understand why parents are setting their kids out on the steps to make some cash. But as you can tell from the post and my comment, I think tourists should think about what effects those contributions have on the kids (and on the tribal cultures.)

  3. avatar Sarah Regune says:

    I was just at that temple a few days ago and saw the same kids you are writing about. There were also two little boys posing on the stairs and I kept thinking to myself that theyy were so young. I didnot take a picture of them but I gave them some money. Thank you for writing this because I really did not think at all about the negatives of giving money.

    • avatar Thomas says:

      I actually remember those little boys. They were very young and clinging to each other in their new tribal costumes.

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