Regional government happy to keep the bribes flowing

On December 12, Yangon Region Hluttaw representative U Thaung Kyaw submitted a proposal to “make a law and allow massage parlours in Yangon Region to operate according to a legal framework”.

The proposal was defeated. But it’s worth looking more closely at the points made by U Thaung Kyaw and Daw Nyo Nyo Thin, who seconded the proposal, and those who argued against it.

U Thaung Kyaw began, “In [Myanmar], both massage parlours and those who go to have a massage at these places are considered lawbreakers, because massage parlours have to operate illegally.

“However, they were ignored by authorities so it became widespread for them to operate despite being in breach of the law.”

The point of his proposal is that young women working in such places lack any legal protection and can being abused by their male customers.

Prominent MP Daw Nyo Nyo Thin and some other opposition MPs seconded the proposal.

Minister for Border Affairs and Security Colonel Tin Win responded on behalf of the regional government.

He said that massage parlours are “not appropriate in Myanmar culture so cannot be allowed officially”. He then said, however, that if they were to be regulated it would be the responsibility of the Union rather than regional government to enact such a law.

The motion was then defeated and recorded in the parliament.

The minister said massage businesses are not appropriate in Myanmar culture. But there are a range of massages available, including the spa and massage services offered by some luxury hotels, blind massage therapists and the illegal massage parlours that MPs were discussing.

There are also traditional masseurs who operate in villages and wards across the country. It is obvious that this kind of massage is already a part of Myanmar culture, and the spa and massage parlours that proliferate today are based on this tradition. So it is not sensible to say that giving someone a massage in not appropriate in Myanmar culture.

The next thing Col Tin Win said was that if massage businesses were to be permitted to operate in Yangon, they should be allowed to operate nationally under a single law.

This is simply an attempt to evade responsibility. The constitution allows region or state parliaments to enact laws on matters prescribed in schedule two of the region or state hluttaw legislative list.

There are so many massage parlours in Yangon. Despite calling themselves massage parlours, everyone knows they are places where men go to pay for sexual services.

Nearly all of these massage parlours are illegal so owners have to pay bribes to the authorities to run their businesses. The massage industry in Myanmar is a giant illegal business that exploits many young women, and they are being exploited by both business owners and the authorities.

Young girls working in massage parlours have no legal protection. The authorities need to consider either cracking down on these businesses to get rid of them entirely or legalising them according to cultural norms and international standards. They have to make a choice.

The police and authorities at all levels have never chosen the first option. The authorities regularly carry out raids on illegal massage parlours but the businesses soon reopen once the owner has paid bribes to those who conducted the raids. We can’t guess how much black money the authorities and their associates have gained from illegal massage parlours but it is certain that they don’t want to give up this lucrative income stream by legalising the sector.

The best way to deal with this issue is to create a legal framework for massage parlours as some MPs have proposed. In neighbouring countries, such as Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, their governments have created good conditions for massage firms to run openly and legally and therefore young girls in those countries can earn good income in fair conditions.

However, the decision made by Yangon Region government and the regional hluttaw shows that the government is all too happy to keep the black money flowing in to officials’ pockets. To them, that is obviously more important than the many young Myanmar women who are being mistreated in this illegal industry.


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