Under 16s midnight ban looms at Net cafes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 April, 2011, 12:00am


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Children under 16 will be banned from internet cafes after midnight under a plan to fight youth crime.

The cafes will also need a licence to operate and have to comply with various building and fire safety requirements.

'After a code of practice was introduced [eight years ago], some people still worried about internet cafes becoming a gathering place for young delinquents,' said Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs Raymond Young Lap-moon. 'Karaoke and amusement game centres have licensing policies so internet cafes should also have one,' he said.

The plan will go through a consultation period in coming months and a bill could be tabled to the Legislative Council by mid-2012, Young said.

Under the plan, internet cafes with at least five computers will be regulated. But internet kiosks at hotels and airports, on private housing estates and at youth centres will be exempted. Alcohol is banned at the internet cafes and all computers must have filters to screen out pornographic and violent online material.

Cafes will only be able to operate overnight if they are in commercial buildings. Those in residential or mixed-use buildings must close by midnight. These rules are already stated in a 2003 code of practice for internet cafe owners, but compliance has been voluntary.

The government will determine details of the licensing policy after discussions with cafe owners and stakeholders.

The city has more than 200 internet cafes, about half of which belong to commercial chains. Young said an average of about 20 complaints and two crimes were linked to the cafes each year, and that licensing was a preventive measure.

Tommy Lau, a worker at I-ONE internet cafe in Wan Chai, fears the midnight to 8am ban on teenagers under 16 could see business drop by about 40 per cent. 'When the under-16s cannot come in, their friends who are over 16 will not come as well,' he said. Seventy to 80 per cent of customers were under 16.

John Chan, 14, said he played online games overnight in internet cafes during holidays. 'We have paid and we are entitled to the services.'