Stop the invasion of the 'child angels': The Nation

Child Angels Dolls, believed by some to hold children's spirits, and can bring good luck, wealth, blessing and protection from harm.
Child Angels Dolls, believed by some to hold children's spirits, and can bring good luck, wealth, blessing and protection from harm.PHOTO: EPA

The glee with which many in Thailand are buying, owning and sharing photos of 'look thep' (child angel) dolls is for the majority of people puzzling and, ultimately, worrying.

The media hype surrounding the lifelike imported dolls is confounding enough, but when airlines, restaurants and entertainment venues are willing to issue seats for these playthings, it's as though society has moved into the Twilight Zone rather than merely skirting its edges as usual.

Perhaps most bizarrely, some owners have hired private tutors for their dolls. 

That people can go so far as to view their toys as living human beings became evident this month when Thai Smile Airways, responding to "increasing demand", began allowing doll owners to book separate passenger seats for their child angels.

The customers don't want their dolls stored in or among luggage.

Owners are willing to pay for meals for their dolls at restaurants. Entertainment company BEC-Tero has agreed to sell seats for the dolls at its upcoming "Disney on Ice" show.

Shops offer jewellery and clothing specifically for the toys. Beauty salons arrange hair and makeup sessions. 

Much the same is happening in North America and Europe, where the craze has also taken hold, but perhaps only in Thailand do the owners have Buddhist monks bless their dolls in the belief these inanimate objects can then bring them bring luck and prosperity.

This strange conjecture - and the popularity in general of the dolls in Thailand - are traceable to celebrity owners of 'look thep' dolls. Their influence on the public is acute, and not always positive.

While some monks have flatly disassociated the dolls from Buddhist teachings, others are willing to go along with the superstitious mindset that allows owners to believe the spirits of angels inhabit their toys.

Monks bless newly purchased cars and much more, so this fact comes as no surprise, yet, to their owners, the dolls are not inanimate at all.

They are living children, to be nurtured and raised as their natural offspring. Among those seeking a "substitute" of sorts for a child who died prematurely, this is more understandable. In other cases it is nothing short of alarming. 

The government's Mental Health Department has acknowledged that the dolls might afford their owners a measure of emotional support, but it warns against believing that miracles are possible.

On the police concern that the dolls might be used - or have been used - to smuggle drugs onto commercial airlines, we can only hope that airport security will insist on X-raying any toy being carried on board.

Like the rest of the world, Thailand has seen doll fads before.

Many people became unnaturally attached to their tamagochi, the electronic pets of the 1970s whose "survival" depended on regular feeding, and the similarly over-hyped and far more expensive Blythe and Furby dolls. None of those, however, took their owners into the realm of the supernatural.

The least superstitious diner is still going to feel uncomfortable seated at a restaurant next to a table where a child angel is being served its own meal.

More superstitious Thais in this increasingly fragile society might shun the dolls in fear of the power they possess and then find themselves seated next to one on a plane.

The owners of airlines, beauty parlours and restaurants should set aside business interests and do what they can to stymie the hype rather than encourage it. Reasonable voices must be heard and heeded. The customer, in this case, isn't always right.

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The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers seeking to promote coverage of Asian affairs.