Prime Minister Hun Sen instructed Ky Tech, the head of his pro bono legal aid team, to provide legal advice and representation to women working in the entertainment sector across the country in order to protect the rights of women in an industry where they are often abused, according to the official Facebook page of Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith.

In a message posted on his Facebook page, Kanharith stated: “[Hun Sen] came up with the idea of providing lawyers to protect women who work in entertainment services such as karaoke parlours and beer gardens as well as assisting them to register with the National Social Security Fund [NSSF].”

Hun Sen gave the instructions during the Extraordinary General Assembly of his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) on January 29.

Tech said that in the past four years, their network of volunteer lawyers have actively helped thousands of people across the Kingdom.

“All of our lawyers have taken many cases to defend women who are underprivileged and lack protections for their legal rights or are vulnerable women without receiving any money for their services. The lawyers are not allowed to be paid anything by the victims, not even presents while working for their clients. The lawyers sincerely help and comply fully with [Hun Sen’s] orders” Tech said.

He said the working group already assigns lawyers to help those working in the informal economy in the provinces, especially those who work in entertainment services.

“We already have a unit of volunteer lawyers working in the provinces and remote areas. We have also established a means of communication to let the public know how they can access our services,” he said.

He added that the volunteers were ready to defend all women whose legal rights had been violated.

Vorn Pov, director of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA), welcomed Hun Sen’s recommendation but suggested that authorities do more to protect the rights of women working in the entertainment sector.

He said that in order to provide better care, the state should push for the implementation of the labour law in that industry, firstly giving them the right to participate in the formation of unions, and secondly, creating special legal procedures to protect their interests.

“We should prepare a special law to protect the entertainment service workers. It would be a good thing to create a legal mechanism that is long-lasting, especially to encourage the owners to be responsible for the safety and security of their workers and to encourage employers to provide social protections through the NSSF, because this is the responsibility of both the employers and the state,” Pov said.

He said that women working in the entertainment industry face many challenges including sexual harassment, violence from guests or by their employers, being forced into unwanted activities with all kinds of guests and being forced to drink alcohol in large amounts nightly.

He said that another major challenge, especially for hostesses and waitresses at these clubs, is that when they are pregnant they are not allowed to work and are forced to quit without proper legal compensation.

“If the state develops a social protection policy for them and makes it effective, it will benefit women who work in the entertainment industry,” he said.

On January 12, at a meeting with 300 staff working in the informal economy in the field of adult tourism services from Chroy Changvar, Russey Keo and Prek Pnov districts, Minister of National Assembly-Senate Relations and Inspections Men Sam An said the government would begin paying more attention to the workers in the informal economy.

“The government has promoted the implementation of the National Social Protection Policy Framework by strengthening and developing social assistance and the social security system to be more comprehensive and effective while strengthening food security and nutrition to ensure the promotion of social welfare and solidarity. The government also continues to reduce people’s poverty level as much as possible,” she said.

A female employee of a restaurant in Phnom Penh, speaking on condition of anonymity, said women working in the industry would all be really grateful if this plan goes forward.

“This is good news for those of us who work in the entertainment industry, whether through bars, karaoke or other restaurants, because it would protect us. Sometimes there is physical harassment from guests, which can lead to conflict and even violence,” she said.