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French girl Manel enjoys a swim last night in a Patong resort

Phuket Runaway's Life of Fun in Patong

Sunday, December 11, 2011
PHUKET: Swimming in a pool at a Patong resort last night, Manel looked just like any other 12-year-old Phuket tourist.

But the French girl's time on the famous holiday island has been very different to the normal adventure in the sun.

She and her 11-year-old sister were brought to Phuket by their father in July, taking an extended look at the prospects of perhaps staying as expat residents.

He had been a regular visitor to Phuket for years, and for a time was married to a Thai before his wife's death five years ago.

The father took a job and seemed likely to settle but the two girls proved a handful. The Frenchman would sometimes disappear for days. He did not care for the girls especially well.

After a big argument, Manel ran away, to live a life of her own in Patong, reputed to be Phuket's wildest nightlife destination, where go-go dancers perform in the main street and hostesses ply the bars.

In the meantime, Manel's father was arrest for possession of drugs and jailed, then transferred to Bangkok prison on November 29.

Both the sisters were left to fend for themselves, Manel as a runaway at 12 and her sister Chaima, living alone in a guesthouse in Patong.

Once the French Embassy eventually learned from their grandmother in France that the two girls had been left to their own devices on Phuket, authorities sprang into action.

The fascinating and extremely fortunate account of how the girls were tracked down then rescued was told last night, soon after Manel emerged from her dip in the pool, at a media conference organised by Phuket's Tourist Police Volunteers.

Two weeks ago, using photographs taken of the girls several years ago - when Manel was aged seven - volunteer's assistant Phawadee de Crissey used her detective skills to trace Chaima to the Goodnight Bungalow.

There are many kind-hearted people in Patong and Chaima had been fortunate to be befriended by Khun Ta, a woman who helped her with food and clothing.

No harm came to Chaima, who was taken by embassy officials to Bangkok then sent home two weeks ago to Paris and into state care.

Concern continued to mount about Manel, the runaway. There was no guesthouse and no friendly local for her.

The Tourist Police volunteers made it their job to look for the girl.

An Italian who works as a volunteer, a former policeman, recognised Manel from the old photo with a large pet rabbit, even though her hair was much longer then.

''I see her in Soi Bangla most nights,'' said the observant ex-policeman with a great memory for faces.

Last Thursday, the duty tourist police watched and waited in Soi Bangla, and around 11pm, right on cue, Manel appeared alone in Soi Crocodile, the laneway noted for dancing katoey ladyboys.

The team - Italian Sergio Bongiovanni, Thai Narada Hanks and Jordanian Omar Alqraini - moved in.

''I grasped her wrist just in case she ran for it,'' said Omar. Sergio spoke to Manel in French. She was relieved to have help at last.

Around the table at the Royal Phawadee Village media conference last night, Manel joked with journalists and answered questions about her adventures as a runaway 12-year-old in Patong.

Khun Phawadee's husband Claude heads the Phuket Tourist Police and has allowed Manel to stay at the resort he and his wife own since the 12-year-old was rescued.

Khun Phawadee has taken both sisters shopping for the cold-weather clothing needed in France at this time of year.

Manel was not, as some feared, sold into sex slavery or forced to work as an under-age hostess. She said last night that she led a carefree life, sleeping at the room of an 18-year-old Thai girl who befriended her.

''I would sleep during the day and wake up about 2pm,'' she said ''Then I would go to the beach to see my boyfriend, who works as a jet-ski beach boy.''

At night, the pair would enjoy the buzz of Patong and its nightlife, and later head for Rock City to dance their way into the early hours.

There was one scary incident in the dark on beach road one night, when a man put his hand over her mouth and appeared to want to drag her into the scrub. Manel, big and strong for her age, quickly fled.

There was also a worrying visit to the Kathu Police Station, when she was taken in by an officer because the owner of a motorbike shop had produced her passport.

Manel's father had left his 12-year-old daughter's passport as security when he hired a bike.

She was hauled in by an officer after police identified her on the bike one night. When they discovered she was only 12, the police realised they could not prosecute a case against her, and waved her on her way.

Now soon bound for Paris, Manel is hoping to spend Christmas with her sister. They will have much to tell each other about their holiday in Patong.

''I will miss Phuket,'' she said. ''When I am 18 and one day, I will be on a flight straight back.''

Around the media conference table last night, the Phuket Tourist Police team roared with laughter.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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"Manel was not, as some feared, sold into sex slavery or forced to work as an under-age hostess"

But she chose that route anyways... Are questions going to be asked of the "Boyfriend"? Sounds awfully like the situation of thousands of absolutely-not-prostitutes working in Patong today.

Posted by Puzzled on December 11, 2011 11:29

Editor Comment:

If the local police waved her away, questions are unlikely to be asked. Perhaps your ''thousands'' theory is a stretch, though. Pimps are a rarity in Patong.

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How unfortunate to have such a crappy father. If i ever have children it would be a honor and i would treasure them unlike this man. And her beachboy boyfriend should be ashamed, too.

Posted by poppops on December 11, 2011 12:08

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I'm made no mention of pimps. I have two points:

1) This story denies she had to have sex to support her lifelstyle. I doubt he paid for those nights out in Patong out of the goodness of his heart.

2) If he was her boyfriend, and he was of working age, and he is allowed into clubs in Patong - why is no-one asking what he was doing with a 12 year old girlfriend? Oh! Underage sex isn't a punishable offence in Thailand?

Posted by Puzzled on December 11, 2011 12:28

Editor Comment:

Most people are simply relieved to have the sisters out of danger. Witch-hunters will, of course, look for someone to blame. For all you know, her boyfriend could be underage, too, Puzzled.

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A jet-ski beach boy having a 12y old girlfriend and "no harm came her way" ?

Certainly adds to the amicable reputation of the jet-ski crew in Patong.

I'm not sure what the age of consent is in Thailand but I'm sure it's not 12.

I wonder how this would pan out if the male involved was a foreigner and was found to have a 12y old Thai girlfriend.

Furthermore one wonders how Rock City allows a 12y old on their premises ?

Sure there are plenty of gaps in my train of thought but I'm just thinking aloud.

Posted by Steve C. on December 11, 2011 12:30

Editor Comment:

The question about Rock City is valid. So is the issue of the local police knowing there was a 12-year-old with no obvious parental guidance.

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at least 2 young ladies have been found and safe for now. but i really doubt she was being given a free holiday without compensation.

ed.. you give me the impression it was ok for her to have a jet ski bf. generalising their behavior and history. would you allow your 12 year old daughter to even socialise with them?

Posted by john s on December 11, 2011 14:37

Editor Comment:

Unlike you, john s, I know there are jet-ski operators who are pleasant, law-abiding citizens. Talking about history . . .to generalise about groups of people leads on to far, far worse things than scams or rip-offs. My 12-year-old daughter would be a good judge of individuals, and free from bigotry.

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What a wonderful typical French family of the banlieue...

Posted by Andy on December 11, 2011 16:17

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Thank god they are both safe, no thanks to the Kathu police, who waved Manel on her way.

Posted by Scunner on December 11, 2011 17:11

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"When they discovered she was only 12, the police realised they could not prosecute a case against her, and waved her on her way."

You mean "they realised she had no money"?

Posted by Eric on December 11, 2011 20:35

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The boyfriend is 19 years old. The large pet rabbit is actually a dog. lol

Posted by Phuket Kop on December 11, 2011 22:06

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I am happy she thinks she had a good time and want to come back. Could have been so much worse, just compare with the story of the two Burmese girls.

And not to forget: some nice people helping the kids. Once again, good news on Phuketwan. Good reporting.

Posted by Lena on December 12, 2011 03:38

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Sorry, but the "Editor Comments" do not help.
There is no witch-hunt, but there
are serious questions asked and not one answered.
About the police, but a father away and did not take care of his children, does not try to enforce the law (against Thais), ....
..there is a Thai man may had sex with a 12 old girl ....
There ....
....
Tit

Posted by J. Johansson on December 15, 2011 12:14

Editor Comment:

If the people with a direct involvement (embassy officials, Tourist Police, grandmother in France, the girl herself) do not take it further, it is not likely to go further. There is no suggestion that the boyfriend was a sexual predator. The girls are safe, and that is the only real concern.


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