A proposal to legalise and regulate karaoke bars and massage parlours in Rangoon Division was put forward at a regional parliament session on Monday.
Karaoke bars, commonly known as KTVs, and massage parlours are generally regarded as fronts for businesses offering sex workers in Burma.
The proposal, which was lodged by Thaung Kyaw, an MP from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) representing Yankin Township, is to be debated in the regional parliament session on 12 December.
On the same day, another USDP MP, Myo Khin, who is also based in Yankin, a neighbourhood situated just east of Inya Lake, raised a formal question in the Rangoon parliament, asking whether there is a plan to create a Night Zone specifically for KTVs, massage parlours, nightclubs, bars, and other night entertainment venues – currently scattered across the city in residential areas.
Regional Border and Security Affairs Minister Col. Tin Win responded that there was no such plan.
Speaking to DVB in January, Eamonn Murphy, the Myanmar country coordinator for UNAIDS, said that it is “well understood that additional services may be provided” at KTVs, massage parlours and nightclubs, although the majority of managers on the premises will vehemently deny the fact that any sex work takes place if questioned.
Burma maintains stiff legal penalties against prostitution. The Suppression of Prostitution Act (1949) was adapted from a colonial era law and stipulates a punishment of one to three years imprisonment for sex workers and pimps – however clients are not penalised.
The legal definition of a brothel was broadened in 1998 to include any place used habitually for sex work, which Murphy said was in response to a surge in the number of massage parlours and karaoke lounges.
While government data from 2012 estimates there are 60,000 sex workers in Burma, Population Services International claims the actual figure is closer to 80,000 – and that there are 15,000 sex workers in Rangoon alone.