Should nightclubs be closed down?
Night clubs are fun, but sometimes not so fun when it comes to safety. Let’s start with the obvious risk: fire. Not two days ago over 200 people died in a horrific nightclub fire in Brazil. This is not the first nightclub fire the world has seen and, unfortunately, it probably won’t be the last. Should we let nightclubs operate until after midnight and risk becoming the next country to experience the tragedy of a nightclub fire? On the other hand, a recent government inspection resulted in the closure of 21 night clubs because they served young people below the age of 21. Will closing down clubs improve the behaviors of young adults? Or will it drive their behavior more underground and dangerous? Let’s discuss this issue from two sides: two points of view.
Closing night clubs will not keep young people safe
A lot of night clubs and bars have been closed down recently in Ulaanbaatar, largely because they served alcohol to people under the age of 21. Only last week 21 night clubs in just one street were closed for serving alcohol to minors and five clubs were closed for operating beyond permitted hours.
Serving alcohol to minors is unquestionably wrong. But the sheer number of clubs and bars closed for that reason begs the deeper question: How is society conditioning its impressionable young adults?
If it was just one or two night clubs that served alcohol to minors, one might safely assume, if not feel certain, that such venues were at fault, but 21 night clubs being closed down for serving minors suggests that night life and alcohol have already become regular features of teenage life.
It’s true that night life and clubs are attractions worldwide and not just in Mongolia. The primary purpose of such venues is to allow people to meet new people and socialize, which is what most teenagers like to do with their free time.
In an increasingly metropolitan society, the ironic fact is that although people are living closer to one another, they tend to have fewer close friends and social acquaintances than people did in the past when settlements were scarecelly. One could even say that as we get closer physically, we become more distant emotionally.
Mental issues related to urbanization, such as social anxiety and major depression disorders have become common only recently. Social venues can be a cure, allowing people to interact with one another and become more confident. But strangely enough, such venues are hard to come by for teenagers and young adults. Clubs and bars usually provide the only such venue for teenagers.
If you have tried to raise a child or spent your childhood in Ulaanbaatar, you know that there is a very limited number of places minors can go to interact with others and spend their leisure time. Yes, children and teenagers can socialize in schools, but after school they need places to meet with friends in their free time. Staying at home can be an option – but a very lonely one.
Humans are social animals. Besides the economic and logistical need to have other human beings around us, we crave human interaction and connections. Otherwise we wouldn’t exist. Were it not for social interaction, how would our ancestors and parents meet and fall in love? The primary purpose and attraction of bars and night clubs for most is not the alcohol, but the chance to meet people and socialize.
For its population size, Ulaanbaatar enjoys a comparatively high number of night clubs and bars. Part of the reason is that young people have almost unrestrained access to such places, but also because young people do not have many other places to go.
Everyone complains about the economy, the rising commodity and service prices and inflation rate, and about how they are struggling to sustain themselves, but bars and night clubs are still in business and are managing to profit – they are even expanding. They still have customers because people still want to spend time with each other and spend a great time.
It might seem hedonistic and short sighted to blow hard earned money on temporary pleasures, but it is the reality. Closing down night clubs and passing stricter laws will not change this behaviour. This would be a band aid solution to a deeper disease. This disease needs a cure.
When such behaviour becomes a habit and a routine, banning it outright will invoke rebellion and resistance. This is never a good combination when it comes to young people as they can be difficult to pacify.
The issue at hand is not loose regulations and substandard leisure venues but the fact that young people have limited options in terms of places where they can engage with one another.
In fact, the regulations are currently so strict that they cannot be enforced. The standards are too high. Any inspector can walk in and nullify the permits of any venue, be it a bar, restaurant or club. If the law were always enforced, there would be very few venues left in the city. Laws don’t mean anything if they are not implemented and they are designed to limit behaviour or acts that are harmful to society. The most logical way to live is to limit as little as possible. When it comes to rules and laws, having as few as possible is the best way to proceed.
The bottom line is that closing down pubs and night clubs will not change the fact that minors seek out such places. If the government wants to discourage teenagers and other young people from engaging in drinking alcohol and other troublesome behaviour, they have to find out why such behaviour is happening at such an early age. Alcohol is not the primary reason teenagers visit night clubs; these teenagers want to spend time with groups of people their age. If people spent more time wondering what their children were doing and where they spend most of their time, and trying to address their children’s needs for social interaction with the same effort and energy as they address their own needs, perhaps the youth of Mongolia wouldn’t seek out night clubs.
Nightclubs are dangerous Let’s close them
With only a few million Mongolian natives on the planet, we cannot risk having nightclub accidents; the deaths of hundreds of young people would cause immense suffering in this small country. Nightclubs that cannot meet the basic safety requirements (and the many other requirements that are extremely difficult to enforce in Mongolia) must be closed.
The Mongolian authorities finally decided to do something about the problems at the very old First Maternity Hospital, but only after infections spread among babies and only after these infections were made public. The city finally began monitoring construction site safety, but only after several people died from being crushed by construction materials falling from our blue skies. Do we also have to wait until something terrible happens in our nightclubs?
It is difficult to enforce public safety in our country, let alone the safety of nightclubs. We have unlit streets that blanket us in darkness at night, open manholes to catch us from beneath, and concrete to fall on us from above. There are numerous requirements for nightclub safety, ranging from basic hygiene to having several clearly labeled exits, as well as ensuring the safe conduct of drunken night club customers, and ensuring no exposure by customers to unsafe electrical lines. In short – there are just too many risks in running nightclubs in Mongolia.
According to a Mongolian newspaper, if an inspector wanted to close all the restaurants in UB, he/she could. It could be done on the grounds of the age of the building the restaurant is located in, the restrictions on personal space per person, the proximity to gas stations, and standards for food storage and cooking procedures. Given the strict rules, only the smartest restaurant owners (who do not have too many flaws in the view of an inspector) are able to keep their businesses open. But the risks posed by restaurants are minimal compared to the risks posed by nightclubs. The worst that can happen in a restaurant is that one or more people get sick from food that has gone bad. But when it comes to night clubs, a fire could kill hundreds; drunken people on the streets late in the night can lead to innocent citizens being hurt or killed, either through physical violence or through vehicle accidents caused by drunk drivers; and damage is also caused to the health of customers who regularly drink excessively in nightclubs.
The lives of the Mongolian people are seriously affected by alcohol abuse in our communities. To make things worse, the regulations on the sale of alcoholic beverages will soon be loosened – as soon as the proposed amendments are approved by the State Great Khural. When we have nightclubs operating throughout the night and morning, with even more alcohol, there will be one too many people locked up in jails for being too drunk and causing trouble in the streets or causing harm to somebody else. We already have many nightly visitors to the drunken cells of police jails; we do not need to increase this number. Considering Mongolia’s current rate of progress on social work in this area and the generally poor treatment and lack of respect for human rights in our jails, the future looks bleak.
It is likely that the rules for nightclubs will be tightened. In case you haven’t noticed, the Mongolian authorities tend to act impulsively (responding spontaneously to the demands of the public, which can really be felt in a country with only 2.7 million people). Especially when making decisions on things that they are not very familiar with. Afterwards, when something goes wrong, the authorities try to backtrack and undo the damage – similarly to the events we are witnessing relating to mining deals Mongolia has made with foreign companies and investors. In other words, when the rules for nightclubs are tightened, it is likely they will be tightened in ways that will not reduce the risks but will only result in greater public tension. Then somebody in government will try to (and will probably succeed) reverse this decision, as they are now doing with the 12 a.m. alcohol sale limit. This will, of course, end with people losing their trust in the leaders of our country.
The extent to which Mongolian nightclubs adhere to regulations – which reflects their level of concern for safety regulations – is shown in their frequent sale of alcoholic beverages to minors. The rules are very strict on this matter and this is probably the most enforced regulation relating to alcoholic beverages. But the sale of alcohol to minors happens every night in nightclubs – as witnessed in the police sweep on nightclubs two weeks ago when 21 nightclubs and several restaurants lost their operating permits because they served alcohol to minors.
So, should we roll the dice and brace ourselves for a catastrophe in our nightclubs or should we (or rather, the city government) do something about it? We can either close them down, which is the simplest approach, or add more regulations, which could become ineffective due to lack of enforcement. Closing down night clubs outright is an idea I strongly support. It may not be the most popular decision, but better safe than sorry, right?
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