Monday, May 5, 2008

Regulation of Cyber Cafes in Singapore (Internet Cafes)

In Singapore, as with many other countries in Asia and across the globe, there are regulations in place to minimze what is commonly referred to as 'gaming addiction' of the youths. Just a couple of the rules include 'no patrons under 16 years allowed on the premises before 6:30pm on a school day' and no student dressed in school attire or uniform is to be permitted'.

According to an article in today's publication of the 'Today' newspaper entitled "Cyber Bender", some cybercafes are exploiting a loophole in the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act, and thereby allowing young patrons, even those dressed in school uniforms to come and go freely on school days.

The loophole is that the public entertainment licence is not mandatory if cyber cafes register themsleves as clubs with the Registry of Societies, and the exploitation of this is seeing a 'stream' of young customers frequenting some establishments on weekdays. All the students need to do is simply sign up as club members.

Some cybercafes situated near schools are obviously taking advantage of the loophole, as students in uniform were witnessed producing their identification cards and being issued memberships on the spot.

Some students are not even aware that there are laws or regulations concerning attendance at cyber cafes, and they have been doing so with total ignorance of the same for years.

The concern of youth counselling centres in Singapore is that the problem of gaming addiction is growing and the number of cyber cafes is increasing. It is reported that many parents have taken out 'Beyond Parental Control' orders on their children whose gaming addiction and activities have led to delinquent activities. The number of children receiving counselling to help overcome their gaming addiction has been steadily increasing over the past year and a half.

Many schools are reporting that the gaming habits are affecting the shoolwork, behaviour and attendance of many of their students.

I'm sure there will be much more debate on this issue as we move forward, however my question would be - if this is an issue in cyber cafes (where patrons can pay around $1.50 an hour to surf the net or play the most popular games like 'World of Warcraft' or 'Diablo II'), how much larger is this same issue in the home, with most households owning at least one (or more) computers with high speed internet access - should perhaps we be putting more emphasis on the parents to control the online behaviours of their own children??
Images of a couple of the more popular games:

The Minsitry of Home Affairs (MHA) response to the recent discussion on the loophole, was "the police and Registry of Societies do not tolerate any businesses that masquerade as registered societies to operate entertainment / gaming facilities for the general public...." and "operating an entertainment and/or gaming facility for the public requires a Public Entertainment Licence from the Police. Societies that fail to comply could be charged and face the prospect of being de-registered".... also "those under the age of 18 years of age should not be accepted as members of registered societies without the written consent of their parents or guardian".

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