ORPHANS OF THE DRUG WAR
The war on drugs may have temporally reduced the amount of illegal narcotics
and the number of dealers in the country, but it will permanently damage the
children of those killed or jailed, child-welfare advocates say.
Already many of them are living in desperate circumstances and are in danger
of falling victim to drug abuse, criminality and other social ills, they
Moreover, if police fail to arrest those responsible for the "silencing
killings" that claimed their parents' lives, the children are destined to
grow up with no respect for society.
"It doesn't matter what the facts [of the cases] are, for the children their
parents were innocent and sentenced to death without any proof of their
guilt," says Senator Montri Sintaweechai.
"Once they feel that there is no justice for them, they cannot be peaceful
like normal children. They will have only pain in their lives," says Montri,
who is also a secretary-general of the Child Protection Foundation.
Eight-year-old Mo became withdrawn and untidy after her mother was jailed
for drug trafficking. Mo, who will be without her mother for four years, is
one of about 2,000 children in Klong Toei who either lost or are temporarily
separated from their parents due to the war on drugs.
In Songkhla, nine-year-old Non is still in shock since witnessing the murder
of both his father and mother. Non hasn't spoken to another person since the
killings occurred a year ago.
In Petchabun, Sornchai Sae Thao, the oldest child of Sia-jue Sae Thao - who
was shot dead on February 12 last year - says he has no idea how his family
will survive. There are eight children, his mother and another wife.
Sornchai, 27, is now the breadwinner of a large family, which was left in
poverty and debt following the death of his father. He says, however, that
the emotional anguish is much worse that the family's deteriorating physical
"My father had been a respected person in the village.
"The claim by police that he was involved in the drugs business and that he
was shot by another dealer damaged his reputation and discredited our
family," Sornchai says.
His father was shot dead along with three other Hmong from the same village.
Police claimed that they all were "silencing killings" carried out by
someone involved in the drugs trade.
Sornchai says he has no idea how to explain to his younger siblings, five of
whom are pre-teen, about their father's death.
When Chaiya Jantanam, the mayor of Tambon Phukradueng in Loei province, was
shot dead on May 6 last year his teenage son had to quit college to help his
widowed mother run the family's motorcycle repair shop.
Chaiya's wife Kittima says she is in danger of losing the business. "I don't
know how much longer I can keep my husband's business because our creditors
are about to take away our shop because I can't pay off his debts alone,"
Her husband had nothing to do with drugs but was slandered by rival
politicians, she adds.
Following his death, more than Bt7 million worth of assets were confiscated
"People thought we were rich from the drug trade. In fact, most of the
assets we had were inherited from my father.
Chaiya himself created a lot of debt from his dedication to local politics
and his love of sports. He paid for talented children in the village to get
proper training. Some of them made it to national teams," Kittima says.
For many "innocent victims" of the drugs war, the loss of a parent or
relative has been compounded by the stigma of being associated with the
drugs trade. Many children in Klong Toei - Bangkok's largest slum community
- have become "unwanted children" since losing their parents, says Senator
Prateep Ungsomgtham Hata, founder of the Duang Prateep Foundation.
Many of them cannot even get into schools, Prateep says.
Schools have no room for "heirs of drug dealers," she explains.
Some teenagers are unable to rent rooms outside of Klong Toei because
landlords are afraid that "Klong Toei children" will use their rooms to
distribute or store drugs.
In what may be the cruellest irony of the drugs war, the discarded children
might end up turning to illegal narcotics, she warns.
"The government must take responsibility for the children who are paying the
price for their 'victory'," she says.
Family forced to borrow food, money from neighbours
Charuayporn Thongdee has lived a nightmare since her husband Samant was
murdered on April 9 last year.
Samant was shot five times in the neck and body while sitting alone in front
of their house in Tak province. The police claimed it was a "silencing
killing" and say they found 98 methamphetamine pills in a small plastic bag
in his underwear.
Almost a year later, the investigation into Samant's murder has yet to make
progress. The lives of his wife and children, however, have been brutally
transformed. The family's assets were seized by the Narcotics Control Board
(NCB) and Samant's pension and life insurance have been suspended.
Charuayporn, a 40-year-old nurse, now has to borrow money and food from her
She sent her eldest son to stay with relatives in another province because
she was afraid he would be killed. Her younger son, who stays with her, is
taunted as the "son of a drug dealer" by his peers. Sometimes strange men
are seen lurking around the house, Charuayporn says. She also receives
anonymous calls from a man who tries to persuade her to meet him.
"He tells me he can help me, but I'm afraid that he might be trying to trick
me into going out to meet him so that he can kill me," she says.
"I hope the police and NCB can conclude the case soon so we can live in
peace like we used to in the past," Charuayporn says.
She says it is unfair to her family that the investigation into her
husband's murder is based on the assumption that it was what the police
describe as a "silencing killing" - that he was killed by a drug dealer who
wanted to hide his identity. "He never peddled drugs," she insists.
The pills were discovered after Samant's body was moved to a hospital. She
says their oldest son and a hospital employee had undressed Samant and
dropped his clothing, including his underwear, into a garbage bin in front
of relatives and numerous hospital workers.
Once they had completed cleaning the dead man's body about 20 police
officers entered the room and ordered the family out, she says.
Soon after they summoned the family back into the room to tell them that
they had found the pills. They accused the dead man's oldest son of trying
to destroy evidence.
"There were many witnesses who saw us removing his clothes and nobody saw
anything in the underwear," Charuaypon says.
The superintendent of Tak's Muang district police says: "We were given some
information indicating that Samant was a drug dealer."
"I didn't have any conflict with Samant so there's no motivation to frame
him," adds Colonel Chaiyan Benjathikul.
If there is any justice in this world the people who did this to our family
should be punished for murdering an innocent father.
- Swedish national Anna Kumatom, 29, wrote this letter to The Nation almost
a year after losing her Thai husband in the war on drugs.
She now lives in Sweden with their two children.
A letter arrives from Sweden: 'If there is any justice in this world'
This is the story of my husband, Suweep Kumatom - also known as Paeh - who
was murdered on February 26, 2003 in Pattaya, where we used to live. He was
murdered during Thailand's "war on drugs" although he was never involved in
any drug business at all. I am now seeking your help to draw attention to
his case, which is a huge violation of human rights, and hopefully to be
able to clear my husband's name and have the people who did this horrible
deed brought to justice. . . . I met my husband three-and-a-half years ago.
For the first six months [after marriage] everything was fine until the day
the police came to our [jewellery] shop looking for drugs. One of them was
an old friend of Paeh's who had become a policeman. [Their friendship had
ended years before.]
Four times the policemen came to our shop, twice they checked my husband in
the street and one time six policemen came with AK47s [assault rifles] to
our home. This was the seventh time they checked and found nothing. . . .
Naturally, we started getting afraid for the safety of our lives and our
children. My husband made the decision to move to a safer place. . . .
February 26 was the last time I saw my husband alive. He left home at
12.10am and had an appointment at his shop at 12.30am. He never made it to
the shop. . . . When I woke up at 5am I felt that something very bad had
happened to my husband. I phoned a friend of mine and asked her to come and
take care of the children. I then went out and looked for him. At 11am I
found his car at the police station. The policemen spoke in a very rude
manner to me and said: "Is this your husband? He died already. You come here
and sign some papers." . . . At the time of the killing I was 28 years old
and our children were one-and-a-half-years old and three months.
I want to know who made the decision to destroy our young and happy family.
And I think that my story could be an eye-opener to the world because things
like this shouldn't be happening.