Activists in Thailand are calling for more definitive guidelines and stricter enforcement measures to eradicate the practice of humiliating punishment haircuts in schools. The outcry follows an incident in which a teacher was accused of cutting the hair of over 100 students while they sat on the floor in rows. For decades, students in Thailand have been subjected to strict regulations concerning the length and style of their hair. However, in response to mounting protests by young people, the Ministry of Education recently abolished these regulations and suggested that individual schools establish their own policies.
Nevertheless, young campaigners contend that this move is insufficiently precise and unlikely to yield tangible results. Laponpat Wangpaisit, the founder of Bad Student, a group that advocates for changes in the school system, stated that “the consequence is that it grants schools complete freedom, enabling them to do anything without repercussion.” Recently, students from a school in Phetchabun province contacted his group and shared footage of a teacher cutting their hair as punishment for breaking haircut rules. The incident generated outrage on social media and shed light on the ongoing issue of teachers using humiliating punishments. Bad Students receives three to four complaints regarding teachers cutting students’ hair each week, with reports peaking at the beginning of the month and at the start of semesters when teachers frequently conduct inspections.
Over the years, students have increasingly rallied against these rules, which they see as representative of a school system that prioritizes obedience over individuality and is heavily influenced by the military. Haircut regulations were initially imposed by the military in the 1970s, and for decades, male students were required to maintain army-style crew cuts, while female students could wear bobs no longer than their earlobes. In 2020, the rules were relaxed, but male students were still not permitted to wear their hair beyond the base of their neck, and certain styles, dyes, and mustaches remained banned.
Laponpat argues that “we must do away with any rules on hairstyles once and for all,” highlighting that hair has no effect on learning and that this issue is about the fundamental right to control one’s own body. He regards this as the starting point for broader discussions about freedom of speech, human rights, and other associated issues. Kunthida Rungruengkiat, a former MP with the dissolved opposition party Future Forward, believes that change is long overdue and that greater accountability is necessary for those who impose humiliating punishments. Thunhavich Thitiratsakul, an educational policy researcher at the Thailand Development Research Institute, warns that while schools have been instructed to consult with students and parents when developing a haircut policy, this may not always be done effectively. He argues that decisions related to students’ rights should be made by schools, but he acknowledges that not every school will make a good decision.