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I have been a sex worker since the age of seven, said Hena, current secretary-general of Durjoy Nari Sangha, an advocacy group of sex-workers struggling to establish rights for those in this profession.
“After my parents died, I was left hapless. A neighbour brought me to Dhaka luring me with the promise of a job but sold me to a brothel instead.”
A few years down the line, Hena was picked up from the streets by the police while out about on her business, and transferred to a vagrant centre in Kashempur.
“I escaped from there as soon as possible. The place was scary for a little girl — rampant with drugs and physical and sexual abuse. I joined the little urchins on the street in selling flowers and ragpicking — and on the streets, it becomes inevitable for a girl to become a sex worker. Hunger forces you to do it,” described Hena.
“All of this happened when Ershad was the President,” said Hena who could not tell in figures how many years ago that was, “but the scenario really has not changed. There are still plenty of children in this profession.”
Sometimes, the children get raped over and over, and finally join the profession, said Hena.
“I never understood the kinds of diseases I was getting exposed to as a result, and neither do these children,” she said.
Although the children act clearly outlaws sex work below the age of 18, Hena laughed it off, saying that no law will be able to keep children out of sex work until their basic rights are given to them.
Joya Sikder, president of the Sex Workers Network of Bangladesh stated that kids in the streets enter sex work as a method of survival or as an alternative form of livelihood that pays more.
Dr Mohammad Shahjahan, secretary general of Bureau of Human Rights Bangladesh, claims that while the streets are filled with floating underaged sex workers, legalized brothels are equally responsible for hosting these children.
“Although all the sex workers are supposed to obtain an affidavit from the police verifying their age, no medical tests are required to substantiate their claims. Most of them do not have birth certificates either. All they need to do is bribe the police a little, and he would stamp the papers claiming that they are 18,” said Shahjahan.
He maintains that there is an impenetrable network built on bribes between the brothel pimps and the local police, such the children remain beyond the scope of law.
“When ordered by higher authorities to rescue the children, they often conduct dummy raids, having first told the pimps to clear out the underage sex workers,” claimed Shahjahan.
The different authorities of local hotels are also known to host such activities, said Shahjahan.