An estimated 200,000 women and teenage girls work in Bangladesh's sex industry.
Child prostitution is widespread and a serious problem. The majority of Bangladeshi prostituted children are based in brothels, with a smaller number of children exploited in hotel rooms, parks, railway and bus stations and rented flats.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimated in 2004 that there were 10,000 underage girls used in commercial sexual exploitation in the country, but other estimates placed the figure as high as 29,000. Many girls involved in child labour, such as working in factories and as domestic workers are raped or sexually exploited, these girls are highly stigmatised and many of them flee to escape such abuse, but often they find that prostitution is the only option open to them for survival - once in prostitution they become even more marginalized. More than 20,000 children are born and live in the 18 registered red-light areas of Bangladesh. Boys tend to become pimps once they grow up and girls continue in their mothers’ profession. Most of these girls enter the profession before the age of 12.
Disabled children who live in institutions and children displaced as a result of natural disasters such as floods are highly susceptible to commercial sexual exploitation.
Girls are often sold by their families to brothels for a period of two to three years of bonded sex work. The authorities generally ignore the minimum age of 18, often circumvented by false statements of age, for legal female prostitution; the government rarely prosecutes procurers of minors
As many as 90 percent of the sex workers may be addicted to Oradexon or similar steroids. Many sex workers take steroid rugs often used for cattle. The girls or women then looks plump and more attractive to the male customers. The old sex workers often take the steroid as tablets, whereas injections are more effective for younger girls. Oradexon is a commonly used steroid.
Prostitution was legalised in Bangladesh in 2000 even though the Bangladesh constitution provides that the "State shall endeavour to prevent gambling and prostitution."
This might be controversial, but during my walks I have been surprised to see how well-organised the sex industry and brothels are in Bangladesh. In many ways it appears to be much more well-organised and accepted than in my own country Denmark and in similar societies.
I have found that many aspects of many controversial and tabued parts of human life is more accepted and better understood in other societies than in my own.
Jan Møller Hansen
Dhaka, January 2012
Shabnam is 22 years old. She has been a sex worker for the last four years. She came to the brothel when she was 18. She is from Barisal in Southern Bangladesh. Shabnam has one daughter, but she is not living with her in the brothel. Her daughter is living outside with some relatives in Barisal. Her husband died some years ago, and she became a sex worker. He died in a road accident, and she was then trafficked to the brothel. She did not decide herself to become a sex worker. Somebody gave her the job, but she is hoping for better opportunities. She do not like this profession and would like a better job. Shabnam is trying to get a better job. That is her dream. Shabnam has 4-5 customers on average per day. Many of the customers are regular ones, but there are also customers she has not seen before. Her earnings depend on the customers. On average she is earning around 500 taka (app. 6 USD) per day, otherwise she cannot afford the rent of her room in the brothel. Per day she has to pay 200 taka in rent. It is expensive to rent the room. Some days she can save a bit of money, but it is not much. During the last five days, she has been sick and has not been able to earn money. Before she was earning more, maybe 4000-5000 taka per day. But the brothel mother took the money. Mama took everything.
In her cupboard in the room, she keeps her cosmetics. That is also expensive. Same for buying cloth. She can only save very little money. She has rented the room for the last five months. Before she was renting another room in the brothel area. She do not know for how long she will stay here. If she gets a better chance, she will try to get another place to stay.
She has applied for a field facilitator job with a NGO. Whether she succeed in getting a another job, she do not know.
Rekha is 35 years old. She has been a sex worker for the last four years. She came to the brothel, because she was poor, Her father and mother could not afford to give her food. She tried to get many jobs but without chance. Therefore she became a sex worker.
She decided herself to become a sex worker. She did not know anyone in the brothel before she came here. But her girlfriend brought her to the brothel. She was happy to leave her family. Always there was violence in her family. Her husband took drugs and drank too much. He always beat her. She don't know where her husband lives now. They split. Now she has a new husband. He is name is Babu. Rekha met Babu in the brothel three years ago. He came to see her as a regular customer, and he became her husband. Babu is doing business. He is selling jewellery. He is a whole seller.
As a sex worker, Rekha earns differently every day. Now when she is together with Babu, she is not earning so much. Babu is keeping some of the money she is earning as a sex worker. She can only cover her living costs. But she cannot save any money, so she cannot leave the brothel. She has no money. Rekha is providing sex services to different customers. She is paying 4500 taka per month for renting the room. The room is about 100 square feet.
She would like to leave the brothel and live outside. Maybe start a new family. Rekha has no children.
Shahanas is 35 years old, but she looks much younger. Shahanas has worked in brothels in Bangladesh for the last nine years and stayed in different brothels. She has been in her room for two years. Here she has a cupboard, which she has rented. She has bought the utensils herself so that she can cook.
As a sex worker she often earns 500 taka ( app. 6 USD) per day. Other days maybe 200 taka. The highest that she has earned is maybe 2000 taka. It depends on the customer and their financial situation. If the customer stay the hole night, then she is getting more.
Shahanas needs minimum five customers per day to pay her expenses. Customers are paying differently. She has an account in Islamic Bank. Sometimes she can save some money. She has 20.000-30.000 taka in the bank. But she is also paying money to her family. The other day she send 7000 taka to her mother. If there is some emergency, she has to send her family money.
She became a sex worker, because her father married another woman. At that time she was only one year old. Her father left her mother, who was a house servant and had different unskilled jobs. When her father married another woman, she became dependent on her mother. She was admitted to school, but when she was seven years old her mother died. Her father took her back. She left school and went to Dhaka to stay with them. But her father’s new wife began to torture her every day. Her stepmother pressurised her to earn money. She was seriously beaten for only one taka. She was forced to go to the river side and collect rotten vegetables to eat and sell. Later she was send to Sylhet as a housekeeper. But she did not like the job there. She came back to Dhaka, and the situation with the stepmother became unbearable. She decided to leave the home, and she got a job at a porcelain factory. She was sleeping in the factory at night. Then there was a woman, who contacted her. She gave her some nice dress and food. Shahanas went together with the woman.
After some days, Shahanas realised that she had come to a brothel. At that time she was 10 years old. The mama of the brothel proposed her to become a sex worker. At first she did not agree, but then she started giving sex to customers.
That was the short version told by Shahanas. She is now a sex worker.