THE number of underage girls being held on remand has reached a record high, prompting the Government to take emergency measures and send some girls to boys' homes to alleviate overcrowding. The 194 girls, aged 12 to 14, most of whom were arrested for working in karaoke bars, are being kept at Ma Tau Wei Girls' Home, pending applications for care and protection orders. But a concern group has complained that the centre is overcrowded and unhygienic as the number of inmates was almost double the capacity of 100. Senior Social Work Officer Kwan Kam-chuen said staff had not noticed any deterioration in the girls' behaviour or increased emotional problems because of the crowded conditions. But emergency measures had been taken to alleviate overcrowding. Six girls have to live in a four-person room, Mr Kwan said. Measures included the redeployment of 13 extra staff from other homes and units of the Social Welfare Department. That would enable an additional one or two staff to be deployed each shift at the home. The 11 girls at the centre's probation section who have already been convicted of criminal offences will be removed to a boys' home later today. The Social Welfare Department had prepared further emergency measures to accommodate more inmates if the total number of girls at the home tops 220. ''We would consider the possibility of sending some of the girls to the other six homes and hostels run by the department,'' Mr Kwan said. Five out of the other six homes of the department are for boys. The remaining one is a girls' hostel for those under care and protection orders. But Lai Wing-shing, chairman of the Social Work Assistant branch of the Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants' Association, warned of the problems of putting girls in boys' homes. ''The Government has tried this before and it has failed,'' he said. Mr Kwan rejected the claim. Keeping the girls in a single-sex institution was not healthy, he said. He said the increase in admissions at girls' homes began in mid-July when the total number of inmates at the centre reached 160. ''We have not experienced such a huge increase in the past, although the tally during summer holiday is generally higher,'' Mr Kwan said. Twelve part-time social workers were drafted in to work at the home in mid-July. He said staff morale had not been adversely affected because of the increased workload. He believed the underlying problem was a communication gap between the girls and their families. ''They would tend to turn to their peers through which most of them would be introduced to work in the karaokes. They believe the job is an easy way to earn money,'' Mr Kwan said. In the long-term, the department would take a preventative approach, he said. ''We have to prevent problems from happening rather than just take remedial measures,'' a department spokesman said. Two inter-departmental co-ordinating committees were set up last month to work on the problems of child abuse and youth at risk. According to a recent social centre survey, many of the underage girls working in karaoke bars allow customers to fondle or have sex with them. The girls can earn $800 to $1,000 for two to three hours or between $1,000 and $1,500 for having sex with customers.