Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country with a population of approximately 66 million people, is modernising rapidly and yet at the same time manages to remain highly superstitious, with its Buddhist beliefs often coexisting side-by-side with animism, astrology and 'black magic' rituals. Its latest craze is an obsession for pampering on glamorous dolls known as 'luuk thep', or 'child angels'.

The dolls, which are not too dissimilar to lifelike rubber children, are thought to invite benevolent spirits to possess them, with the hope that they will bring good luck, wealth and protection from harm. Although they seem harmless, police have since arrested three doll vendors on charges of tax avoidance, resulting in more than 100 dolls being seized.

The child angels can cost anywhere from 1,500 baht ($40, £28) and can fetch prices upward of 30,000 baht ($837, £587) and are said to bring good luck, wealth and protection from harm. They were first popularised by celebrities, who made the rather questionable judgement that by dressing the dolls up in elaborate clothing, feeding them and carrying them like real children, the dolls had brought them professional success.

Thai dolls
A 'child angel' doll is pictured at a shop inside a department store in Bangkok, ThailandAthit Perawongmetha/Reuters
Thai dolls
A collection of luuk thep dolls for sale are seen at a house in Nonthaburi, ThailandAthit Perawongmetha/Reuters
Thai dolls
Mananya Boonmee, 49, works on the make-up of a 'child angel' doll at her house in Nonthaburi, ThailandAthit Perawongmetha/Reuters
Thai dolls
Women carry 'child angel' dolls to a Buddhist monk to be blessed at Wat Bua Khwan temple in Nonthaburi, ThailandAthit Perawongmetha/Reuters
Thai dolls
A girl smiles as she holds up her 'child angel' doll inside a department store in Bangkok, ThailandAthit Perawongmetha/Reuters
Thai dolls
A devotee dresses up her 'child angel' doll near Wat Bua Khwan temple in Nonthaburi, ThailandAthit Perawongmetha/Reuters
Thai dolls
Poeple pay respect to a Buddhist monk as they sit with their 'child angel' dolls during a blessing ritual at Wat Bua Khwan temple in Nonthaburi, ThailandAthit Perawongmetha/Reuters
Thai dolls
Buddhist monk Phra Winai Thidtapanyo, 64, anoints on a 'child angel' doll during a blessing ritual at Wat Bua Khwan temple in Nonthaburi, ThailandAthit Perawongmetha/Reuters
Thai dolls
Buddhist monk Phra Winai Thidtapanyo anoints on a 'child angel' doll during a blessing ritual at Wat Bua Khwan temple in Nonthaburi, ThailandAthit Perawongmetha/Reuters

Some say the doll mania reflects anxiety over Thailand's struggling economy, which is why there is a tendency to turn to animist beliefs during times of uncertainty, with some owners bring their dolls to temples for monks to instill powers in them.

Phra Winai Thidtapanyo, a 64-year-old Buddhist monk at Bua Khwan Temple says he has blessed more than 30,000 dolls since last year.

"Before I make the auspicious markings, I ask them what is troubling them that caused them to do this [raise child dolls]. After I preach to them and they understand my preachings, I think OK, I will do it as moral support to help them get through [the problem]. Since then, people have constantly been coming to me."

Thai dolls
Natsuda Jantabtim, 45, kisses her 'child angel' doll in Nonthaburi, ThailandAthit Perawongmetha/Reuters
Thai dolls
Devotees take their luuk thep dolls inside a department store in Bangkok, ThailandAthit Perawongmetha/Reuters
Thai dolls
A 'child angel' doll owner, Supattar Wichainan, 27, decorates her dolls at a shop inside a department store in Bangkok, ThailandAthit Perawongmetha/Reuters
Thai dolls
Luuk thep collectors play with their dolls at a house in Nonthaburi, ThailandAthit Perawongmetha/Reuters
Thai dolls
A street-food stall owner works next to her 'child angel' dolls near Wat Bua Khwan temple in Nonthaburi, ThailandAthit Perawongmetha/Reuters
Thai dolls
A Thai policeman shows a 'luuk thep' doll after more than a 100 of them were seized in separate raids, at the Economic Crime Suppression Division in BangkokAthit Perawongmetha/Reuters
Thai dolls
A Thai policeman holds a 'luuk thep' doll after more than a 100 of them were confiscatedAthit Perawongmetha/Reuters

'Luuk thep' dolls have become so popular in the past year that a low-cost local airline, Thai Smile, has been forced to draw up new guidance for staff on passengers bringing on board these dolls, with some even getting their own seats, under the condition that the dolls wear seatbelts. The new trend has even prompted several restaurants in Bangkok to offer children's meals to the dolls. The subsidiary of national flag carrier Thai Airways, Thai Smile said it would charge passengers who bring the dolls on board but would serve them snacks. Other companies have cottoned on to Thailand's growing obsession; Neta Grill, a restaurant in Bangkok, advertises meals for the dolls on its Facebook page, saying it would charge their owners children's prices for its buffet.

With more and more allowances being made for the lifelike dolls, it appears that the owners are beginning to feel that their lucky powers work. Wilairat Daengsongchroey, 17, who said she has been raising her doll for around eight months so far, stated that her doll "gave me a better life. She helped me earn more income from when I earned very little. I've won many lotteries".

Natsuda Jantabtim, 45, a beauty-salon owner who lives with her daughter and doll called 'Nong Ruay Jung' ('Pretty Rich') says: "I can see it in other people's eyes. I know some of them must be wondering why I am carrying a doll, but I just don't care."