The first step in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s broad crackdown on karaoke clubs and discotheques began Wednesday, with municipalities across the country drafting contracts for club owners under which they would agree to close their establishments by Friday or face penalties.
Although the orders have not yet been sent to club owners and penalties have not been set, this is the first indication since Hun Sen issued a directive Tuesday to close all karaoke parlors and night clubs that the government will implement the policy.
It’s still unclear which clubs will be targeted by the directive. The government so far has only asked officials to categorize clubs by size.
“This is a good wake-up call for Cambodia because there is a very high number of karaoke clubs and nightclubs—the number is out of control,” said Mu Sochua, minister of Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs, adding that many karaoke clubs are fronts for prostitution.
Although Mu Sochua hailed Hun Sen‘s directive as a strong first step in the fight against human trafficking, she questioned whether the appropriate measures were currently in place to provide adequate support to the estimated 30,000 women and children who will be out of work after the karaoke clubs close.
“I asked to be involved in this because I am concerned with the consequences this will have on women and children in the industry, especially the children who are not supposed to be there in the first place,” Mu Sochua said. She estimated that approximately 40 percent of the workers in the karaoke clubs are under the age of 18.
Because many of the night clubs and karaoke parlors scheduled to be closed are fronts for prostitution and many women working in these establishments owe money to the club owners, Mu Sochua said her ministry was planning to hold an emergency meeting with the human rights groups Adhoc and the Women’s Crisis Center Wednesday night to ensure that the workers leaving the karaoke clubs have some sort of shelter after the clubs are shut down.
Funcinpec parliamentarian Keo Remy openly questioned whether Hun Sen’s order would be an effective measure in stamping out the violence and drug trafficking associated with such establishments.
“It is not fair that Prime Minister Hun Sen orders all karaoke parlors to close down while the casinos and the brothels are still open,” he said. “I would support the measure 100 percent if the prime minister ordered the closure of casinos and brothels, too, but [as it stands], the measure may push people to join prostitution in other areas.”
Sam Dy Sak, manager of the Mahasal Night Club located on Monivong Boulevard, also denounced Hun Sen’s order, saying that the directive will hurt workers much more than it will stop crime associated with just a few clubs.
“The government should point out which clubs create trouble for the society or sell drugs, but they should not close every club,” he said. “This will affect mostly workers; now they will have to find another job.”
His sentiment was shared by Long Yao, manager of the Happy Palace club on Monivong Boulevard.
“Me and the employees are not happy because we are facing the closure of our business, but have done nothing wrong,” Long Yao said. “My karaoke customers are nice customers. There is never fighting here.”
In order to keep the Happy Palace open, he said he would change the karaoke parlor to a Chinese restaurant.
The Phnom Penh municipality Wednesday met with police officials from seven Phnom Penh districts, the Ministry of Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, and the municipal department of tourism to discuss how Phnom Penh authorities will implement Hun Sen’s order.
Mann Chhoeun, chief of cabinet for the Phnom Penh municipality, said there are approximately 200 karaoke clubs in Phnom Penh, and while the city will not close all the clubs, he said certain large night clubs such as the Orchidee Hotel have been recognized by the city as trouble spots. He said that hotels with adjoining karaoke clubs—like the Sharaton, which has the Casa Disco Club connected to it—will not be closed.
“Only the karaoke or disco will be closed, not the hotel,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Lor Chandara)