By Max Constant
From Thailand's police chief to its department of civil aviation, authorities are concerned and trying to adapt to a craze for "angel dolls" -- infant-sized life-like dolls that are treated like real children by their owners and are thought to bring good fortune.
In the past months, the dolls have reportedly been brought to restaurants, nightclubs, Buddhist ceremonies and even been bought tickets next to their owners on planes, where guardians -- many of them adults -- have demanded they be presented with in-flight refreshments.
Speciality shops have even popped up in the Thai capital, where you can have your "angel" -- which can cost up to 21,500 baht ($600) -- clothed or even tutored in the English language.
On Tuesday, the Bangkok Post reported Chula Sukmanop, the director-general of the department of civil aviation, as saying that a two-day meeting will be held this week with representatives from airlines and airports to set up a standard policy concerning the “angel dolls” -- or “luk thep” in the Thai language.
“According to security standards, a passenger can take a belonging with a weight not over 7 kilograms on board and we have yet to find sufficient reason to ban ‘luk thep’ dolls on board,” said Sukmanop.
The announcement came after a local low-cost airline allowed owners to buy a seat for their "child" on the condition that it is a window seat -- so as not to block the emergency exit -- and that its seatbelt is fastened during take-off and landing.
The decision was taken after passengers complained that air hostesses had asked them to put their dolls in the overhead luggage compartments or under their seat.
According to the new guidelines “food and drinks will be served to the dolls as they would for paid-for passengers.”
On Tuesday, The Nation newspaper reported police chief Gen. Chakthip Chaijinda as warning that the new guidelines presented criminals with a new way to smuggle drugs.
“I have instructed all 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.
The fad for the dolls started in early 2015 when a Thai fortuneteller is reported to have asked a Buddhist monk to ritually bless his doll.
Celebrities were soon posting pictures of themselves with their dolls on social networks, which accentuated the trend.
Angel dolls, which are produced both in Thailand and overseas and sold in shops or online, undergo a ritual blessing which is designed to draw so called "angel spirits" into them.
Their owners believe that if they take care of the dolls as they would real children, the spirits will bring them good luck and fortune.
Some service outlets in Thailand have opened sections where the dolls can assemble a wardrobe from Kindergarten to adult, be tutored in languages, or even book holidays overseas.
One Bangkok restaurant even has a set menu for the dolls -- priced at 180 baht ($5) -- but only if the doll is between 110cm and 130 cm.
Dolls smaller than 110cm get to eat all they want for free.
This weekend, an interprovincial bus company announced that it would sell seats to the dolls’ owners who want to take them up-country.
The practice of treating dolls like real children has roots in old Thai tradition Kuman Thong, in which a small wooden statue is blessed in order to invest it with a dead child’s spirit.
According to the tradition -- which persists today in Thai rural areas -- if the Kuman Thong is properly revered if will bring good luck to its owner.
“Angel dolls are a clever blend between superstition and the digital age” the Nation reported Jetsada Chokdamrongsuk, director-general of the Department of Mental Health as saying Tuesday.
“We all need a mental refuge that we lack. Some people have worries and they need something that they can rely on,” he added.
He rejected the notion that "parents" of angel dolls may have mental problems.