Karaoke is one of Asia’s favourite pastimes. The creator of the karaoke machine is Japanese, but a Filipino businessman, Robert del Rosario, takes credit for the invention because he was smart enough to patent it.
From Taipei, Jakarta and Manila to Hanoi and Hong Kong, karaoke (KTV) is very popular, and Phnom Penh is no exception.
There are so many karaoke bars throughout our city, but it was difficult to find one that was appropriate for my friends, their parents and me to go to.
Eventually, I found a family-style KTV bar, and it was what karaoke should be about: singing along to the lyrics of your favourite songs.
In many KTV bars in Cambodia, customers enjoy singing, dancing, drinking and having a great time. In most KTV bars, men enjoy other perks with young women.
Many karaoke girls augment their income by moonlighting as prostitutes. Young women from rural areas earn the respect of their villages by sending money home, despite the fact they work in karaoke bars, massage parlours and brothels.
Customers of KTV bars range from tourists, expats and foreigners to local Khmers, and sexual exploit-ation of girls in Cambodia has increased as a result of the financial crisis.
Many women have entered the sex industry because of declining working conditions in the garment sector, where they endured long hours and low pay.
They can easily earn more money, and enjoy good working conditions, by becoming prostitutes in KTV bars.
Some karaoke-bar owners run a clean operation, but many of them hire girls to perform sexual acts with the customers.
Clients negotiate a price, pay a bar fine to take girls off the premises, and enjoy a few hours, or a night, with them. Asian customers like Vietnamese women, who dominate Phnom Penh’s sex scene, because of their preference for pale skin and fine features.
Prostitution is illegal in Cambodia, and the government has banned songs that encourage infidelity from being played in KTV bars.
But with thousands of go-go girls and karaoke hostesses, this country is famous for sex tourism.
That image must change, and it will take more than the government to correct it. It takes the community, and the people, to reduce supply and demand in this trade.
I recommend more vocational-training programs education that focuses on skills related to a specific career or trade.
After that training, these women can be placed in a job-assistance program and earn money without having to sell their bodies.
Vocational training tends to be less expensive than academic educational programs, but it should be affordable, or free, to anyone who wants to escape the sex industry.
NGO Acting for Women in Distressing Situations (AFESIP) provides skills training in fields that include sewing, housekeeping, hairdressing, weaving, handicrafts, small-business management and social work.
The program enables participants to attain self-sufficiency and financial independence, with the opportunity to find employment or run their own business.
At the family-style KTV, we sang the song She Works Hard for the Money, about a waitress who won’t do anything sexual to make money.
There is hope. And if you have hope, you have a chance to make money the respectful way.
The Social Agenda with Soma Norodom
The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.