NGOs have again expressed concern over the effects Prime Minister Hun Sen's recent
decree banning karaoke parlors and discotheques nationwide will have.
Among the threats cited are increased prostitution in public parks and the spread
of HIV into rural areas as karaoke girls return to their provinces.
Lim Mony, head of the women's section at the Cambodian Human Rights and Development
Association (Adhoc), said enforcing the law as it stood would have been preferable
to the blanket closure. She said HIV would likely spread since it is much more difficult
for NGOs to target educational campaigns at the unemployed.
"Every Cambodian has the right to work," said Mony, "and now that
right and their source of income has been taken away."
She said prohibition was not the best method of reducing street violence and firearms.
Minister of Women's and Veterans' Affairs, Mu Sochua, estimated that more than 15,000
karaoke workers have lost their jobs. The Prime Minister was unsympathetic. In a
speech November 28 he said local authorities should follow his order or face losing
their jobs. He said karaoke workers should go back to where they came from.
"The karaoke girls are not an issue of concern - rather the [victims] of current
fires are. I don't want to see Cambodian people becoming hostage to karaoke,"
said Hun Sen. "I think it is better to be a Communist rather than allow teenagers
to give up school and go to karaoke."
Villagers in rural areas are also worried about the spread of HIV.
"I know they are from the city and more beautiful than country girls, but we
don't know which ones are HIV-positive," a 53-year-old man from Baphnom district
in Prey Veng province said, speaking anonymously. "The young men will marry
them or they will engage in discreet love affairs with other men in the village."
When Hun Sen issued his order, he said it was out of concern for the violence that
afflicts society and often emanates from such places. Several karaoke shop owners,
speaking anonymously, suggested he should target the real problem behind the violence.
They said trouble was caused by those people licensed to carry firearms, adding that
those behind illegal karaoke establishments were often running drugs or sex rackets.
Most of the problems, the owners said, were due to powerful men and their bodyguards
as well as police and military officials.
"The government should enforce the law against illegal karaoke shops rather
than shut down the whole country," said one owner.
They pointed out a recent example reported in a local newspaper November 21 when
the bodyguards of a military general shot up a karaoke shop in Tuol Sangke, Phnom
Penh. One policeman from the Flying Tigers unit was killed, and five other people
Peter Leuprecht, special representative for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,
wrote that the judiciary and law enforcement must be strengthened, and problems such
as corruption in the administration of justice should rather be tackled.
His sentiments are widely shared by others who have spoken out to protest the order.
Keo Sichan, coordinator for the Cambodian Women's Development Association (CWDA),
Chanthol Oung, executive director of the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center (CWCC),
and Senator Kem Sokha joined Mony in calling on the government to rather reduce the
number of such establishments, and take action against corrupt officials.
NGO staff said karaoke workers often support their families in the provinces. Many
also have large debts to the club owners, and have no way of paying. Going back to
the provinces is no option as there is no work, and to return would bring shame upon
their families. The risk is that more will turn to brothels to earn a living.