Four years on the six Klong Toey boys who came into the clutches of foreign paedophiles are still faced with the daily choice of either seeking out oblivion or fighting to regain some dignity, writes FATHER JOE MAIER

This is one of those oh-yeah-I-kind-of-remember stories: now that you mention it, whatever happened to those kids?

The Bangkok Post ran the original story in Perspective four years ago. There were six boys. The oldest 14, the youngest 12 and a few days: all sexually abused by foreign paedophiles. Heavy-duty type abuse - for almost a whole year. The cops stumbled onto the story accidentally. There was an IT conference in London on criminal use of the Internet. Police from Thailand, attending the conference in the UK to update themselves, were shown some child porn downloaded from the Net. Folks there saying, ''Take a look at this stuff. Don't these boys look like they're Thai?''

The Thai officers smiled stiffly with their faces, not the tiniest twinkle in their eyes. Although no one noticed, they were saying quietly to each other through gritted teeth: ''We'll be back home in Bangkok in two days."

And, oh, they didn't forget. They caught the gents in a heartbeat or two. The faces on the porn pictures from the Net were clear enough to identify a couple of the boys. The police asked if we knew the boys. It took some of our social workers who know the streets and the slums about an hour to track them down in Klong Toey, a neighbourhood where everybody just about knows everybody else. The boys, by this time fed up with the abuse and broken promises, gladly led the cops to the bad guys and told them what they did.
It wasn't pretty. This stuff never is. The gig went down like this.

The men were patient. A full week, they watched the boys at a well-known street corner where they sold flower leis and cleaned windscreens with dirty rags. After they garnered a bit of cash, the boys usually went across the street to play computer games and a bit of snooker - just hang out like street kids looking for some action. That's where the men approached them.

First they gave them money, later invited them home with them and got them cleaned up. De-loused them and taught them how to take a ''proper'' bath. Later, in the police reports written by the boys, they told how the gents meticulously made sure the boys' bottoms were clean.

The boys were given new clothes and taken on trips to Pattaya. Usually overnight. The men gave them money for their families and encouraged them to go to school. The families winked to each other - took the money - mouthing how well their boys were doing in class. The families had pretty much forced the boys to drop out of school to work the streets. Booze had to be bought, gambling debts cared for.

Most evenings the men met the boys, gave them more money to play computer games. Then took them back to their flats to play other games, taking photographs and making videos.

Eventually, inevitably, the kids ran, and their families told them to go back. They enjoyed the money, too. The families either did not care, but probably didn't want to know.

But the boys were spooked. Nice clothes no longer mattered. Money and cash even for mobile phones didn't count any more. They ran back to the slums, but not to their parents. Instead, they went to their grannies and lived with them.


We knew the boys. Knew their grannies, too; some were in our Senior Citizens Group. We'd given rice, and cooking oil, you know, to help them get by. These fine, stately betel nut chewing ladies, sometimes with granddad, their husbands, wouldn't have taken the rice and staples as a gift. No, they are ''of an age'' and ''have face.''

So we'd stop by at their homes - shacks - and say that the mom-and-pop neighbourhood shop told us that granny had paid for the rice but left it behind when she'd shopped. You know, the bag of rice was too heavy to carry.... That's the only way the grannies would have accepted it. In Klong Toey, even more so than other places, dignity is most important. Often that's all the grannies have left. Dignity. To take that from them is a blunder, an insensitivity beyond belief.

And don't get me wrong. They also are quite choosy - especially selective of their choice of the betel they chew. There's betel nut and then there's betel nut. In Klong Toey, dignity is important. And you need to know your betel nut!

So, too, it was with the boys, who'd had their dignity stolen by the bad guys. It wasn't easy for the boys, being interviewed by the police, and then again by the judge in the Juvenile Court. Being asked to look at the photographs the men took and put on the Internet. Writing a testimony, then telling the judge what happened. Then having the judge read it back to them word by word: seeking the truth. The interviews with the special police were videotaped, too, and that brought back more bad memories. One of our social workers was there and we tried to make it as comfortable as possible, but it wasn't nice, not at all.

The judge who handled the case was a good man and fair. The men went off to prison and while the court case progressed, the boys were sent to a social welfare home some 200 km south of Bangkok where they were cared for and sent to school. Not that school was their first choice, but it was both for education and safety. Had they stayed in Bangkok, in Klong Toey, the families would have ''gone belly up'', telling/forcing the boys to deny everything. No charges.


But staying in the Remand School didn't last long. One by one, the boys ran away from the home and returned to Bangkok. In a year, all were home again, back with their grannies. But it was long enough. Long enough for the court to process the case, to prosecute. The bad guys went to the slammer for a month of years. The boys - although school was not their top priority - were clean from the fatal 505 combo of thinner and glue for a while and learned a bit of discipline, and got a bit more reading, writing and arithmetic. Plus they actually admitted several times that they were happy and felt safe. But the lure of the streets is strong.

The boys are now older, more mature. The oldest are aged 18 and mostly back on the streets. One of the older ones was just released from jail after ten months. His granny didn't visit because she didn't know which bus to take and was too ashamed to ask.

Another one they call Match Stick Head because his head is shaped a bit unusual. He has younger brother and sister and he cares for them when he can. They don't know he runs just about anything that is non-taxable and black market that he can possibly carry on the back of his motorcycle. All they know is that he's gone a lot, and generous when he's around. A real big brother, except he does act goofy. He tells them it's all the glue and thinner mix he sniffed when he was young. Even when you're off for a while, the damage is done.

Three more are still on and off the glue and thinner mix, too. The heavy-duty stuff called 505, a viscous, yellowish goop that's sold in one of those brown energy drink bottles that are easy to discard when a cop shows up. They're in and out of remand homes, as well. Only one is going to school.

One boy you can find at a street corner, selling flower garlands that his granny makes. He gives her most of the money. Another one is there sometimes, too, and he's the one who occasionally goes whacko and smears dirt and oil on a car windscreen in a threatening matter. The police know him well: throw him into the slammer for two weeks to cool off. When they find the boys sniffing glue, they may just tell them to sit down outside the police station for a few days - don't go away, or else! You can't blame the police. What do you do? These boys won't stop until they want to - or until they are dead.

Another boy is a part-time motorcycle taxi driver. As I write this, he's back ''inside''. Racing his motorcycle and smelling of glue.

The 505 hasn't destroyed their brains entirely, by the way. You can talk to them about football. They still remember the names of all the players for Manchester United and they know how Liverpool is doing. You look at them and they seem okay. Skinny and ragged around the edges, but okay. The glue/thinner combo doesn't leave any visible scars. Inside, the scars run deep. It's like someone had stirred their brains with a stick. Or, as we say in Thai, their stability is like a twig stuck in some water buffalo poop alongside the road.