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School Starts Today; Parents Are Stealing Uniforms

Thai Caught Stealing School Uniform
A 26-year-old mother is questioned by a security guard at a Chumphon mall after being caught shoplifting school uniforms.

School uniforms are always a burden for parents, but with unemployment rampant during the coronavirus pandemic, cash-strapped guardians are resorting to stealing their children’s new school clothes.

Two thefts were reported Tuesday alone, with new uniforms stolen off a clothesline in Pattaya and a mother and daughter taken into a Chumphon police station for shoplifting.

Some parents get lucky each year if their kids didn’t grow out of last year’s uniforms, but that’s the exception, not the norm. In addition, students moving from kindergarten to first grade, and grade 6 to 7 need all new uniforms, which can cost parents 3,000-4,000 baht per child.

So it wasn’t surprising when a 26-year-old mother in Chumphon was caught  stealing shirts, skirts and shoes for the eight-year-old daughter at her side.

Dragged into the security office at the large department store in Lang Suan District around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, she broke down in tears, saying both she and her husband have been out of work for months and she had no money to buy her girl a clean uniform that fit for her first day of school Wednesday.

Shoppers who witnessed the events sympathized with the woman and paid the store manager for the clothing, begging him not to press charges. He didn’t.

Similar charity was on display in Pattaya Tuesday when local police gave a mother six replacement sets of uniforms after a thief stole hers off a clothesline where they were drying.

Mother Darin Arbsuwan said she, too, is unemployed due to Pattaya’s near total economic collapse due to the pandemic shutdown. She scrimped just to buy those six new uniforms and could not afford to replace them.

Uniform dealers across the country are complaining sales are down, but parents simply can’t afford them this year. The government some financial relief – 360 baht per child – but that doesn’t even cover one of the five sets usually needed. On Tuesday, however, the Commerce Ministry and major uniform manufacturers announced a deal to offer discounts of up to 80 percent on select apparel, which the government estimated could save the country’s 10.4 million parents up to 1 billion baht.

Some parents are getting a break this year, however. Many school districts are implementing alternate-day schedules to reduce crowding in classrooms and prevent Covid-19 from re-emerging. That parents can get away with buying only three sets of uniforms, not five, since the can launder the clothes on off days.