Teachers and police warn that the proliferation of illegal video game parlors near
Phnom Penh schools are responsible for a mushrooming truancy problem.
School's out and video parlours are in for some. some.
Daun Penh High School teacher Chea Nary says the video game craze among her students
has become a matter of increasing concern.
"[My students] skip class and I am told that they go to play video games,"
she said. "I have sent letters to their parents about this and the parents were
upset by the news that they were playing video games [instead of studying]."
Mao Sophanith, 11, is one of the students of Baktuk primary school who is causing
his teachers concern because of his obsession with video games that allow him to
do everything from controlling a computer-generated boxer to playing video poker.
From his daily pocket money of 1,200 riel Sophanith spends 500 riel at the video
parlor near his school.
"I like to play video games very much... it's great fun to play the games, and
I always want to win," he said. "I like to play a game called '99'."
Sophanith says he keeps his game-playing a secret from his parents. "My parents
would whip me if they knew I skipped class."
Municipal Decision No. 105, issued on May 19, 1995, makes the location of many of
the video game establishments illegal, says Mom Soth of the Phnom Penh Municipal
Education and Fine Arts Department.
"There are almost one hundred video game parlors in Phnom Penh, and any video
game parlor that is within 150 meters of a school is illegal," he said.
Phnom Penh Municipal Government Cabinet Chief Mon Chhoeun said numerous video game
parlors had opened too close to schools in defiance of the law.
Bun Thy, 50, the owner of a video game parlor within 150 meters of Wat Koh primary
school, defends his business and insists it does not have a detrimental effect on
students' study habits.
"I think that it is normal for children to play these games," he said.
Thy said that in spite of Sub-Decision No. 105 , police had never raided his shop,
partly due to the fact that he pays police a monthly 'tax' of between $4 to $10.
An employee of another video game parlor west of the Faculty of Fine Arts told the
Post that her shop had been in business for three months, and that most of her regular
clients were students from Chaktomuk High School and Daun Penh high school.
"Police have warned the manager many times to close down the shop, but it remains
open because the police are paid bribes," she said.
The deputy chief of police in Chey Chum Nah District, Suor Sokhom, told the Post
that he regularly raided the video parlors near Chaktomuk High School.
"We cannot accept bribes from the owners because we implement the law - but
at the end of each month they help to pay our water and electricity bills."
Sokhum says he considers the video game parlor owners' generosity in paying the police
station electricity bill as "assistance" rather than bribery.
Sockhum emphasised that during the crackdowns his officers did not arrest children,
but only warned them not to skip school.
"They are too young to be thinkers. They are addicted to playing the games,"
A Baktuk primary school teacher, Chan Sithol, said that at least four of his students
always skipped class in favor of playing video games. "Some parents accuse teachers
of extorting money from students, but as I understand it, the children demand money
from their parents and spend it on video games," said Sithol.
Chaktomuk primary school deputy director Lim Vanna said his students were regularly
truant to play video games at three video parlors near the school.
"My students skip class [to play video games]," Vanna said. "I think
authorities should eliminate all game parlors. The longer the game parlors remain,
the more children will play [video games]."
Ninth-grade Chaktomuk primary school teacher Bun Srun said the weakness of some of
his students for gambling video games had led to serious consequences.
"They are addicted to playing games because it makes them happy. Some gamble
and lose motorbikes and bicycles then lie to their parents that the bikes and motorbikes
got stolen," Srun said. "Then they became members of [teenage gangs]."
Baktuk primary school director Hang Khuoth favours strong official action to curb
what he calls the negative influence video games are having on his students.
"The Phnom Penh municipality should close down all video game [parlors] within
150-meters range of my school," he said.
Mom Soth promises help is on the way: "I will continue to crack down on any
video game parlors which secretly furnish gambling video games, in co-operation with
gendarmarie forces, police, and Phnom Penh municipality officials," he said.