Family can be cruel: the price students have to pay for protesting

Students attending the rally on 2 October 2020 at the Ministry of Education share experiences of the backlash they receive from their parents for going to protests and their opinions on the current student movement.

Students protesting at the Ministry of Education on 2 October

Young Thai people have traditionally been seen as politically apathetic, as hierarchy and the culture of obedience in Thai society play a crucial role in preventing children from political socialization within their families during adolescence. But as young people have become more politically active, family conflict has also been increasing as parents attempt to block their children from political participation.

In September, the high school student activist group Bad Student tweeted that students who attended the 5 September protest at the Ministry of Education have been facing abuse from their families. The group also said that there have been more than 20 cases of physical and verbal abuse, which include students being beaten or facing threats of being disowned, and that the group is using the donations they receive to provide financial aid and shelter for these students.

At the rally at the Ministry of Education on 2 October, some protesters were as young as 14 years old, and while many said that their families are supportive and agreed with their call for educational reform, many struggled with their families’ objection to their participation in the movement.

The price they pay

Rhat, 16, said that she had had an argument with her mother, who believes that the students have been paid to protest by adults.

“I suffered physical assault, but it wasn’t that bad. It was just a slap. I was slapped on the face. … It was like she was very angry that I came out and do something like this, like she wants me just to study. What I’m doing is so that we can study more effectively, so that no one can oppress us. We go to school for education, not to have others violate our rights . This is what my parents still don’t understand,” said Rhat.

She said that one of her friends had it worse. Rhat said that her friend was forced out of their home, was denied an allowance for two months, and could not pay her tuition fee. She also said that the situation in her family is improving, as she has tried to explain the situation to her parents by giving them examples of abuse, and her parents have become dissatisfied with the current situation of the education system.

Rhat would like parents to understand that their children are being harassed and abused at school. She disagreed with the Education Minister’s comment that students have to wear uniforms for their own safety. Students are bothered everyday about their dress code, especially girls, who often have more dress code requirements.

She also said that parents should be careful about consuming media, as there is a lot of misinformation being spread about the protests which might cause them to unnecessarily worry or panic.

Meanwhile, F, 17, said that, at first, her family did not oppose her participation in the rally and only asked a few questions about it, but after the protest on 19 September, she had a huge argument with her parents, who even resorted to profanities.

“They said, ‘if you want to go and die, then go,’ something like that, and told me not to come and ask my mother for money. If I use their language, she said ‘don’t come and ask for my fucking money.’ I cried a lot.  At that time, I didn’t really listen to her, but I still can’t survive by myself. If I could, I would want to leave, but because I can’t, I did not leave.”

F said that she was sad because she felt that her mother was inconsiderate of her feelings. She tried to explain the reasons for the protest but her family would not listen to her, so she avoided talking about any political issues at home and did not let her parents know about her participation in this rally.

“I want to come here to speak out. I don’t want to just stay silent. Sitting around won’t change anything. She also asked me why I went, and said that being there won’t help, so I ask her what I should do if I don’t attend. I asked her if she knows what the situation is like right now. She said, she does, that it is not good. I asked her again what, if it is not good, I should do, and she said, just stay still. The second I heard that, I thought, okay, I won’t talk to her anymore,” said F.  

With white ribbons tied around their wrists, students flash the three-finger salute as they gather in front of the Ministry of Education in the rain.

Another student, Nathan, 16, said that his parents initially did not believe he would join the protests. He said that his parents usually do not pay attention to political and human rights issues, but were suspicious that someone was behind the student protests. He said that he attempted to communicate with his parents by showing them cases of abuse in schools, but that he seemed to have failed as they stayed silent and did not talk to him, even though he reassured them that the protests would not become violent.

“I feel bad that they don’t understand us, because we’re out here fighting for our future. It is sad that we have to be born in a country where all children want to go abroad, where everyone wants to work abroad. Why don’t we make sure our country has everything, is developed and progressive? I also don’t understand why parents think we’re fighting for something we don’t know about. In fact, we are fighting with reasons,” he said.

Reaching an understanding

M, 18, said that this was her first time to join a protest, but she did not tell her parents she was doing so, because they were concerned about her safety. However, she said that her family has always communicated with each other, so even though her parents disagree with her, she would join the protest nonetheless.

“Not doing anything is more painful.”, said M.

Representatives of the Bad Student group scattered copies of a resignation letter for Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan from the top of a truck.

S, 16, said that this was her second protest. After her parents found out, they prohibited her from joining protests, even though they themselves did not have strong political opinions.

Her parents told her that they were worried about her future, and that it would be difficult for her to find a job if employers find out that she had participated in political events.

But S said that the pressure her family put on her did not affect her decision to join the protest. She said that it was her right to voice her standpoint and if there is a chance to do it, she should.

Many of the parents whose children attended the protest on Friday were worried or are against the movement.  However, there are also a few parents who supported the students speaking up and asking for reform.

Cake, a 14-year-old high school student, said that her parents were concerned and unhappy about her attending the rally as well because of the presence of police and military officers at the Ministry. Nevertheless, she added, “I think there are two types of parents. One supports us because before this, they had the red shirts and yellow shirts.”

“We came here out of the failure of the Thai education system because it is so bad”, she said.