Poor families in north India sometimes give up their sons to the Nath Yogis and other religious orders, simply to survive. Children are forced, through social and economic pressure, to be monks and to take yogic initiation. Families proclaim the miraculous births of sons are the intervention of the Nath Yogis–who sometimes “reincarnate” themselves through them. These kinds of excuses or rationalizations for “sacrificed” children, have been called by critics, the “slave culture” of the yogi and monastic orders1. South Asia has plenty of sacrificial child-monks.
In Thailand, novices typically are no younger than 8. Samanera (novice monk) vows are often temporary: during phansa (the rainy season of Buddhist Lent), during summer holiday from March to May, or after the death of a parent or grandparent. The latter motivation is considered repayment of the debt owed to family members for being under their care as a young child. Thai parents claim child-monks exhibit fewer behavioral problems after learning to meditate and are more mature after returning to society outside the monastery.
Temple Boys (Dek Wat), also, help monks and novices to carry the alms (begging) bowls, to prepare the meals, and to clean and do menial labor. Often they are poor children who get a home and a meal by helping the monks. Dek Wat can sometimes come from rich families who desire to give their child an education and training from senior monks2.
Education is one of the principle reasons for being a child-monk. Poor families often cannot afford to send their children to school or to feed or care for them. Ordination as a novice monk provides for material needs as well as basic education. Motivated children may complete secondary school as a novice monk, graduate from a monastic college, and earn an advanced degree from a university in another country. After teaching in a monastery school for several years or serving as an administrator, monks often disrobe, leave, and get a secular job in society. Some remain inside the monastery.
Child-monks are prevalent throughout South Asian countries, such as: Burma, Korea, Sri Lanka, Tibet, and India.
1. p18 Sinister Yogis, David Gordon White, University of Chicago Press, 2009
2. Monks’s Everyday Life. ThaiWorldview. http://www.thaiworldview.com/bouddha/bouddha3.htm