Plan to ban under-16s from cybercafes 'unfair'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 July, 2009, 12:00am

Plans to ban children under the age of 16 from visiting cybercafes late at night as a means to control drug abuse among youngsters have come under fire.

Samson Tam Wai-ho, the lawmaker for the information technology sector, says the move would hamper late-night study sessions involving children from poor families. Mr Tam pointed out drug users preferred more private venues. 'Internet cafes are gathering places for teenagers who may or may not have computers at home. Such legislation would fly in the face of policies to minimise the digital divide between those with computers and those without,' he said.

Mr Tam said the battle would be best fought by stopping drugs at the border. Authorities should work with cybercafe operators to fight drug abuse among teenagers and the government should arrange for social workers to visit internet cafes and set up reporting guidelines, he added.

Some teenagers agreed the proposal was unfair. According to Aaron Sin kay-on, 14, of Munsang College (Hong Kong Island), the drug trade was virtually non-existent at internet cafes. Most of the teenage patrons were focused on their studies or games because they did not have computers at home, Aaron said.

'Internet cafes are the only places where they can finish their assignments. If the ban was enforced, they wouldn't be able to finish their homework,' he said.

Felix Tse Yan-lam, 15, of Ying Wa College said he doubted such a law would be effective, given the flouting of the smoking ban at internet cafes.

According to the Narcotics Bureau, the number of first-time drug offenders aged below 16 leapt to 201 in the first quarter of this year. This is a 14 per cent increase over the same period last year.

Daniel Shek Tan-lei, chairman of Action Committee Against Narcotics, said the cut-off time for young cafe patrons was being debated.

A police spokeswoman said 561 people under the age of 21 had been arrested for drug-related offences up to March, with 2,427 arrests last year and 1,809 in 2007. She added the force had no figures for cybercafe-related arrests.

Eddy Chen Lung-shing, director of the internet cafe chain, said security at the city's 200 or so cybercafes was satisfactory. There were surveillance cameras and customers had to register with their identity cards, he said.