Rangoon (Mizzima) – Rangoon alone boasts between 3,000 to 3,500 illegal massage parlours, according to a senior police officer from the Rangoon Division Police Commander’s Office.
There are over 2,000 massage parlours in 10 townships so there are at least 3,000 such parlours in the entire Rangoon Division, a police officer of the rank of Pol. Maj. said on condition of anonymity.
“Police statistics reveal there were at least 2,500 massage parlours in Rangoon Division in 2008. Now there must be at least 3,000 to 3,500. Six downtown suburban townships including Ahlone, Sanchaung, Tamwe, Pazundaung, and Minglataungnyunt have the maximum number of parlours. These townships account for about 2,000 parlours,” he told Mizzima.
Most of these illegal massage parlours are in Pazundaung, Tamwe, Minglataungnyunt and Sanchaung Townships with an average of at least 300 parlours in each, the police estimate.
A Rangoon based advocate views the mushroom growth of illegal massage parlours in Rangoon as a result of lax legal control.
“There is only a Prostitution Law to tackle such proliferation but there is no specific law for parlours. So the accused are usually charged under section 188 of this law, which stipulates violation of order by authorities. Those who urinate on the roadside can be charged under this section, where the maximum penalty is one month’s imprisonment. Women are exempted. They can be fined a maximum of Kyat 1, 000,” the advocate said.
Owners or those running the parlours can be given a maximum of one month in prison if charged under section 188 and the property can be impounded.
Weaknesses in the legal framework and lucrative profits make this illegal business grow, the advocate said.
“My uncle once worked on a massage parlour case. It could be reopened while they were still facing trial. The owner said the time to break even for a parlour was only six months no matter what the investment. The owners give handsome salary to the managers of the parlours as they are used as scapegoats when raids and arrests take place,” the advocate added.
Other than some licensed physiotherapy clinics, all massage parlours are violating the law, other legal experts said.
Small massage parlours under the guise of ‘beauty saloons’ are found elsewhere in Rangoon. Many big massage parlours with investment of tens of millions of Kyats exist with staff strength of 50 to 70 women workers and 20 to 40 male masseurs. Customers from all walks of life visit the big massage parlours.
“Some provide satisfactory service equipped as they are with good interior decoration. Famous actors and actresses always visit a massage parlour near our home. Sometimes foreign tourists visit these high quality massage parlours in groups,” a local resident of Lanmadaw Township said.
The local Ward and Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC), police and military intelligence units take monthly protection money and levy from the massage parlours depending on their size at rates varying from Kyat 500,000 to 3-4 million. There is a growing trend of opening massage parlours and brothels under the guise of parlours.
“It is easy to distinguish between genuine and bogus massage parlours. The youths say this is massage and this is massoot. The bogus massage parlours never run their business in the same place for long. You can see many ‘beauty saloon’ signs elsewhere in downtown Rangoon. Eight to nine out of 10 are massage parlours,” a member of Ward level TPDC from Latha Township said.
“The massage parlour business was set in motion by military intelligence, whose personnel opened such parlours in their area of control. During the crackdown on the military intelligence units, the massage parlour business was hit for a short while. Then there was a boom after 2005-2006,” he said.
An editor of a Rangoon based journal said, “Some massage centres really provide good service. Some legally opened physiotherapy clinics are run by blind physiotherapists trained in Japanese techniques. If the government issues official business licenses with stringent rules and regulations to these parlours and collect taxes legally, the problem of co-existence of legal and illegal massage businesses can be resolved. Moreover the protection money and levy collected by police will have to go to the government coffers also. And then women masseurs can get legal protection and their grievances can be redressed legally”.
(Edited by Ye Yint Aung)