News from Nakhon Pathom in February about an eight-month-old baby, Nong Tor, who was kidnapped while his parents slept, drew the public's attention for weeks. By the end of February, the infant's 17-year-old mother, N*, confessed to police that while bathing Nong Tor she accidentally dropped him, causing him to have infantile spasms. The teenage mother did not know what to do. She later dumped the baby's body in the river. Despite an extensive search of the river by police, rescue officers and volunteers, the body of Nong Tor has not been found. N faces three charges -- causing death by negligence, concealing a corpse and reporting false information to authorities.
Because she was the child's mother, people naturally assume that N loved her son dearly and would have taken good care of him. N, however, behaved in an opposite manner from society's expectations and so has been subjected to a lot of hateful comments from netizens. N's 19-year-old husband, P*, however, hasn't received similar criticism as N said she committed the crime by herself.
Before N confessed responsibility for Nong Tor's disappearance, two foundations -- Win Win Foundation and Mirror Foundation -- posted information about N on their platform. Win Win Foundation posted that N raised her son by herself without support from her own or her husband's family. Her father is visually impaired and her mother is bedridden. All her in-laws dislike her, the foundation claimed, so she's had no one to turn to in a time of great difficulty, including her husband who likewise is said to be abusive.
Mirror Foundation posted a note written from N's point of view. The note said that she wasn't able to pursue her dream of having a career such as a nurse or a doctor. She realised that due to her family circumstances, she could not achieve those kinds of goals. Also, she was bullied at school and even her friends sometimes ignored her and treated her like she was invisible. She loves her father, but he was always getting drunk and picking a fight with her mother which made for an unhappy home life. Thus, she was glad to be away from home and with her husband, whom she could at least talk with.
After the posts were released, some readers felt sorry for N since she had been through a lot of difficulties, but most people still despised her and accused the foundation of trying to convince people to feel sorry for her.
The posts from both foundations gave me mixed feelings. But, one thing for certain is that N was involved in a crime related to her missing child, and the young mother should face legal consequences for her actions. N abused her child but is also a victim herself -- of abuse from her husband, her parents, her in-laws and society. Even though the posts from the foundations look suspicious since N has a history of lying, it is obvious that her parents are very poor and she grew up in a home with domestic violence where she lacked the love and attention that she needed. At school, N could not rely on teachers for help when she was being bullied and isolated.
According to news reports, the situation was made worse by her husband, who forced her to be a sex worker to earn money for the couple. P eventually was charged with underage sexual exploitation since N was only 15 years old at the time. Making matters yet worse, a 55-year-old, Jae, was revealed to be the biological father of Nong Tor from DNA testing done by the police; he was charged with statutory rape of a minor.
Surprisingly, many netizens blamed N more than P for being a sex worker. They questioned why N did not leave P, suggesting that she probably enjoyed being a sex worker. Many people even compared N's situation to themselves and commented that they also grew up in poverty and experienced domestic violence, yet they did not behave like N. I understand that people have different sexual preferences, but it's unlikely that N enjoyed being forced to work as a prostitute to earn money for a living.
Humans are not born evil, but they become evil due to circumstances that lead them the wrong way or because of bad decisions that they make. Apart from portraying N as a heartless and irresponsible mother, the posts from Win Win Foundation and Mirror Foundation show us how teenage mothers can face difficult situations and how these kinds of cases can be prevented. That should start with providing proper sex education and easy access to protection tools, though that seems unlikely for schools in Thailand.
A representative of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security responded to the case of N and other teenage mothers by stating that the government already has a helpline -- 1300 -- in place. The service has social workers in 77 locations nationwide to help support teenage mothers not only in terms of health and education but also financially. Unfortunately, N did not know about the hotline. This kind of information should be included in school curricula and promoted in communities and the media. Teenage mothers must know where to go for help. Moreover, when people in the community suspect underage sexual exploitation is occurring, they can call the helpline to help minors. If N had had such help, she might have known how to take better care of her infant child, and an innocent child like Nong Tor would not have had to suffer the consequences of his mother's ignorance and her hardships.
* Not her/his real name
Suwitcha Chaiyong is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.