Cambodia is full of beer gardens where teenagers wearing high school uniforms are served. Drunken teens get into violent confrontations, such as a man who broke his skull last week at a karaoke parlor in Phnom Penh. Traffic accidents, which today kill more Cambodians than AIDS, also increase as teenagers hit the streets drunk.
Ken, 23, a fourth-year business communication major at Pannasastra University of Cambodia, said that although he and his friends enjoy beer gardens, the ones with teenagers pose problems.
“There actually different types of beer gardens, the clean ones and the dirty ones,” said Ken.
“The clean places are where you go to chat with friends, and the dirty ones have mainly underage clients who sometimes cause trouble,” said Ken, adding that the teenagers frequently fight, smoke and even buy illegal drugs.
Ken said he and his friends all dislike the dirty places, which mainly exist around schools. These places can open as early as 3pm or earlier depending on the reservations made by customers.
Under Cambodian law, underage patrons may not go into beer gardens without their parents. Furthermore, drinking establishments must not be open near schools.
Po Samnang, Head of the National Cultural and Moral Center said that people die every day from drinking.
“According to our data, around five people die everyday on the roads and 30 get injured. Altogether, 30 per cent of accidents are the result of alcohol consumption.”
Furthermore, the situation has alarmed teachers and parents. Sim Neaky, who is both a father and teacher at Sothormok High School, is worried about the widespread consumption of alcohol among the youth.
“As a parent we always care about our children, and we really don’t want our children to go drinking like that. In some cases it also easy to cause traffic accidents because of drunk driving”.
Some owners of drinking establishments are aware of the problems. Dalis, the 27-year-old manager of a Phnom Penh nightclub, said that most of her customers are 25 years old or older, with only 15 to 20 per cent of customers around 18 years old.
“The customers can’t cause trouble or do illegal things in the club. If they do our security will send them out.”
She said that her venue, which is expensive and high-class, needs to keep out underage drinkers.
“High class clubs must spend at least $150,000 to $200,000 to open, but many places just have a house and some basic facilities where they sell cheap alcohol to students.
Mr. Thong Khon, Minister of Tourism says, “I think there are not that many. We have law to let beer garden open at least 200 metres away from school, pagodas, hospitals, diplomat homes. And the local police have to regularly check on them.
He added: “According to the law kids younger than 18 years old have to go along with parents. The owner of the place has to be responsible for letting underage children in. In the legal case only children who sell flowers can get in there to do their business”.
Samnang said that the responsibility to stop destructive, underage drinking largely rests with the youths themselves.
“As we are now in a free market; no one ban that kind of place. Therefore, the consumers have to control and protect themselves. Youths should spend time absorbing knowledge, and save that kind of entertainment for later in life.”