Seven under-age girls - some as young as 15 - were caught working as hostesses at a Yau Ma Tei nightclub in an undercover police raid early yesterday.
The round-up was the latest indication of young girls being drawn closer into Hong Kong's sex world, one social worker warned. About two months ago, police revealed they had busted two 'compensated dating' rackets, where young teenage girls were set up with men through internet chat rooms.
Police said they received a tip-off recently and sent three undercover officers posing as patrons into the nightspot in Woosung Street. They found the 15-room karaoke club packed with patrons, with most of the hostesses being in their early 20s. The police identified themselves at about 12.30am and other officers waiting outside rushed in.
'Preliminary investigation revealed that the under-age girls were recruited to drink and sing along with customers. So far, there is no indication that they also provided sexual services,' one policeman said.
The seven girls were aged between 15 and 17. Police said they were making about HK$400 an hour. Two had started working at the club just the day before.
The police did not suspect the involvement of a syndicate or that the girls had been working at the club against their will.
'Investigations showed that they were introduced to the karaoke nightclub by friends and two of them had just started working there on Friday night,' the officer said.
Police took the girls to Tsim Sha Tsui police station, where they called their parents to collect them. Officers took down the details of customers and employees but made no arrests. Police said they were still looking into possible charges related to illegal employment and breach of liquor licence.
'We will look into whether their parents failed to provide proper care to the girls and then we will consider whether care and protection orders are needed,' the officer said.
Forest Chan Chi-sing of the charity group Caritas said Hong Kong had long struggled with the problem of under-age girls working in entertainment venues, but it appeared to be escalating.
'They were first found working in karaoke or nightclubs as PR girls, then internet cafes as helpers and then pubs and bars as 'fighters'. Recently, they were found engaged in compensated dating,' Mr Chan said.
In late September, police announced they had broken up two compensated-dating rackets. Two girls who later came forward to draw attention to the problem estimated there were 500 to 600 girls in the trade and that 90 per cent of the dates involved sexual services.
'You can never measure the trauma I've experienced,' one of the girls said. 'Sometimes, the idea of taking my life even came to my mind.'
Mr Chan said parents should be suspicious if their daughters started coming home late at night or if they noticed they had more money to spend on expensive goods.
'Some under-age girls may be lured to work in the entertainment venues or be involved in vice activities because their parents provide them with insufficient care at home,' he said.
'Parents should talk to their children more. If necessary, they should seek help from social workers.'
He also warned that under-age girls might face care and protection orders and court-imposed curfews or be sent to a home for girls if they were found working in such entertainment venues.