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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Karaokes targeted in anti-trafficking drive

Karaokes targeted in anti-trafficking drive

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No sex here please, we're doing karaoke...

In an effort to stamp out human trafficking and child prostitution, the Ministry

of Tourism (MoT) is demanding that Cambodia's karaoke parlors must be inspected and

licensed by mid-August or face fines and closure.

Nuth Nin Doeurn, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Tourism (MoT), told the Post

that a new licensing requirement for karaokes is part of an overall government effort

to maintain public security for the Kingdom's exponentially increasing numbers of

tourists and to prevent exploitation of Cambodian women and girls

"Our restriction on Karaokes is because of our concern about drugs and human

trafficking, prostitution and any gambling occurring behind this kind of business,"

Doeurn said. "We are concerned about 'silent' prostitution which might be booming

in karaokes."

Doeurn said the initial effort to regulate karaokes is just the first part of a draft

law on tourism that the government is currently formulating with assistance from

the Asian Development Bank. According to MoT estimates, there are 65 karaokes in

Phnom Penh, four in Siem Reap and 10 in Sihanoukville.

Ironically, the MoT's Director General, So Mara, was himself involved in one of Cambodia's

most publicized human trafficking cases - the forced prostitution of seven Central

European women who were freed from confinement at the Cangi Best Western Hotel on

Norodom Boulevard in August 2000.

Mara had taken one of the women to Sihanoukville with him on the morning of the police

raid on the hotel but has successfully evaded censure for his involvement in the

matter ever since.

To avoid future recurrences of Cangi Best Western-type abuses, the MoT is requiring

that karaoke rooms have see-through doors and windows to reduce the possibility of

illegal behavior behind locked doors.

"We want karaoke to be seen as a place for entertainment for both foreign and

Cambodian tourists, not for sex," Doeurn said of the new license requirement,

which will cost karaoke owners $50-$200 depending on the size of their establishment.

"We are placing restrictions on karaokes because we are concerned of the possibility

of tourists [being induced into paid] sex due to a lack of control."

The new regulation also decrees that karaoke workers will have to be at least 18

years old and have health certifications from the Ministry of Health. Food and drink

menus will have to have fixed prices while video cassettes and disks shown in karaokes

will have to have Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts approval.

The MoT measure has been applauded by Chanthol Oung, Executive director of the Cambodian

Women Crisis Center (CWCC). Oung said that the majority of karaokes illegally detained

girls for sex in order to attract customers, and that CWCC had rescued at least 300

karaoke girls in the past two years who had been forced to provide sex to customers.

"Our people are still poor and they are easily cheated by the human traffickers

and sold to karaokes," she said. "Some girls have a contract with the karaoke

owner which illegally specifies that all money they earn is paid to their parents

in the countryside."

Y Kong, 55, the owner of the one room Karaoke #9 in Toul Kork Market, said that she

had already paid her license fee to comply with the MoT regulation.

Kong dismissed suggestions of illegality in her business, insisting that her employees

were all relatives whose only services were running a cassette player and serving

beer.

Kong agreed that adding sexual services to her businesses menu might increase profits.

"I think that the customers would come again and again if the girls please them,"

said Kong. "I think the karaoke industry can make a lot money if owners do not

consider the dignity of Khmer girls".

A 22-year-old karaoke girl calling herself Ah Leak (not her real name), said that

sex was routinely supplied to customers outside the premises if they were willing

to pay for it.

"We are just a toy for customers," Leak said of her trade.

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