In response to the growing number of blind and disabled musicians who have set up makeshift karaoke stalls on Phnom Penh’s street corners so that they can sing for donations, City Hall announced this week that it would ban the practice.
“Disabled people who use the speakers to sing along public streets must stop and should take donations from us,” Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday, although he did not elaborate on what kind of donations the government would be willing to provide to the disabled.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said on Friday that authorities had already started taking measures to shut down the singing operations.
“We will not allow blind people to sing along public streets. When they do that, they affect the reputation of other disabled people,” Mr. Dimanche said.
“Their singing affects the beauty of the city, too. We want disabled people to receive money with dignity,” he said.
However, taking a break from singing on the sidewalk along Mao Tse Toung Boulevard on Friday, 31-year-old Pov Phearith, who lost his eyesight due to a childhood illness, said he had never had an opportunity to make money for himself—until recently.
Since moving to Phnom Penh from Prey Veng province five years ago, Mr. Phearith said, he had been unable to find steady work due to his blindness, and had relied solely on handouts from NGOs.
About a month ago, he and some of his blind friends decided to pool their cash, purchase speakers and a microphone, and start singing in public for donations, he said.
“Now we sing along the street. We each make 20,000 riel to 30,000 riel [about $5 to $7.50] per day, but it just depends on how much charitable people give to us,” he said.
“If we cannot sing along the street, we cannot live.”
Phun Phorn, 29, who also lost his eyesight as a child and recently started singing on Monivong Boulevard, pleaded with the authorities to have a change of heart.
“Please, City Hall, forgive us and let us sing along the road to get some money to feed ourselves, because we cannot do work like normal people,” he said.
Ngin Saorath, executive director of the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization, an advocacy group for the disabled, said he was troubled that City Hall did not appear to have a clear plan for helping the musicians find another source of income.
He urged the municipal government to meet with the street singers to discuss the matter.
“We cannot just ban them and not care about them,” he said.