THAILAND (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Immigration police officers will be strict about people carrying "child angel" dolls due to fears they could be used to smuggle contraband such as drugs, the national police chief said on Monday (Jan 25).
Police General Chakthip Chaijinda said that criminals could hide illicit substances in such dolls when travelling.
"Criminals will have a new way to smuggle drugs," the police chief said.
"I have instructed all the immigration checkpoints to be strict - whether they are at airports or the borders. They must also strictly screen 'luk thep' dolls passing their checkpoints," he added.
Chakthip also opposed allowing the dolls to be taken in to airline cabins because of the risk of smuggled contraband.
Lifelike "child angel" dolls, known as "luk thep" in Thai, have been a fad since last year when a number of celebrities were seen with their adopted baby substitutes.
The factory-manufactured dolls blessed by monks are often used as a kind of amulet to attract good fortune.
Thai Smile Airways recently allowed passengers to book a seat for their child angel dolls. The airline said it was serving its clients' needs according to an increase in demand. However, the dolls are allowed to be booked only for window seats that are away from emergency exits.
"I was startled upon reading the news this morning. How have we arrived at this point?" the police chief asked.
Meanwhile, Department of Mental Health director-general Jedsada Chokdamrongsuk said on Monday that the popularity of child angels reflected a deep-seated superstition in Thai society.
He said the phenomenon was no different from past trends when people "raised" child ghosts known as kumarn thong. "Child angels are a clever blend between superstition and the digital age," he said.
Mr Jedsada rejected an observation that "parents" of the child angels might have mental problems.
"We all need a mental refuge that we lack. Some people have some worries and they need something that they can rely on," he said.
Dr Yongyuth Wongpiromsant, a senior official at the mental health department, credited a clever marketing strategy for the popularity of the dolls. He said celebrities and social media were used in order to boost their appeal.