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Like any other day, Tumpa, a student of class III, was found waiting outside her mother’s room at around 7pm as her mother was busy with a ‘client’.
When I asked about her mother she replied in an easygoing tone, “Ma is working inside the room. Come after few minutes.” Like other children at the Kandapara brothel of Tangail, Tumpa is completely aware of her mother’s profession as a sex worker.
While talking with Tumpa, who is the first girl of her school, she shares her intimate desire with this reporter saying, “I want to be a Police Officer when I grow up. Then I could rescue my mother from this god forsaken place and sleep in her lap. I have missed that for a long time.”
According to Sex Workers Network (SWN) there are about 1400-1500 children living in the twelve brothels around the country while there are 1500-1600 children of street based sex workers who are living in the city slums or roadsides. However, the number is higher than SWN statistics, according to the experts.
Srity, a girl about 10 years old who lives in Madaripur brothel says, “I hate violence and drinking run here which takes me away from my mother. My mom has to entertain them while I need some time from her. Those persons who come to my mom hate me and call me ‘children of whores’.”
There are some girls who have already joined their mother’s profession. As their mother cannot find any customer like she could in her youth; her daughters have no option but to choose their mother’s profession. These girls also routinely face different types of social harassment and stigma.
Papri, a teenager who has completed S.S.C in 2009 getting A grade is now working as a sex worker in Madaripur brothel. She shares her harrowing experiences from her school life, “I was a meritorious girl in my class. Every day I went to school and faced so many teases from the local people and boys; even sometimes from my teachers. They refer to me as ‘children of prostitute’ and asked me my rate.”
“Enduring all these humiliations on a daily basis, I was continuing my studies anyway. But when my mother told me that she hardly found customers anymore and it was hard for her to bear my expenditure; I decided to become a prostitute.” She adds.
“I had no desire to come in this profession. I had got myself a chance to work in Bangladesh Police. But unfortunately I had missed it because I had no money to give them bribe” She says with sorrow. Her fellow friend Bithy who is also a sex-worker says, “I could not run my studies when I was in class 10 because my mother could not bear our expenditure more as we are 3 brothers and sisters and I am the eldest girl of my mom. So I had to choose this profession to support my family .”
They complain once an NGO assured them that they would build a school for them inside the brothel premises but that assurance never came true. Children of prostitutes prefer schools made by NGOs because they are not socially accepted by other people when they go outside of brothels to study in public schools.
These children of sex workers sometimes face discrimination even when they go to doctor in government hospitals or in private hospitals for seeking treatment with their mother. Kolpona (not her real name) says, “when we go to hospital with our children, if the doctor can identify any sexual transmitted diseases in my child’s body they can understand the child is a child of a sex-worker. Then they avoid giving my child treatment.”
“I don’t understand why they hate us? We are also human beings. Now we try to go NGOs’ clinics rather than going to government or private clinic with our children. But when it is urgent to go there we really feel hesitant.” She adds.
Since 1998, many local NGOs with the help of international donor agencies like UN agencies, Care Bangladesh, Action Aid, Terre Des Hommes Italia, Global funds, Save The Children etc have been working for sex workers empowerment, providing education facilities for their children and making them aware of HIV/AIDS and other STDs so they can be reintegrated into society and gain social acceptance.
Under these circumstances, as the government is yet to take any satisfactory action against such matters, it is stated by experts that, these NGOs are good for nothing. NGOs are only doing business in the name of raising awareness among the sex workers.
However, several NGO employees claim that due to lack of government support and strict action NGOs are unable to do their jobs.
Mohuya Leya Falia, Programme Manager of Manusher Jonno Faundation says, “Since we are working with sex workers we observe that some people including political people, local administration; target these deprived people for filling their own greedy pockets. For these people, we cannot do any proper work. On the other hand, We cannot stop the trafficking and forceful employment of underage girls in brothels because our government never takse any strict action against these practices. Even though our country’s constitution strictly prohibits employing underage girls in brothels.” she adds.
While asking State Minister Dr. Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Ministry of Women & Children Affairs about government enrollment to stop forcing underage girls to prostitution, she says, “It should be stopped as early as possible because under aged prostitution is strictly prohibited according to law. So we will take action to stop this underage prostitution.”
A teacher from DU, requesting for anonymity, “Actually NGOs are doing business with the sex workers around the country. There would be no need for such NGOs if the government could do anything for them. By exploiting the ignorance, lack of unity and weak social standing of these sex workers, and the negligence our government itself, these brothels and sex workers are only becoming a lucrative source of business for such NGOs.”
In 2010 the government recognized the profession of prostitution for the first time on new voter ID card. After that decision of the government the sex workers from all around Bangladesh thought that their sufferings as citizen of this country will end forever. But constant pressure from conservative religious groups led the government to reverse the decision. Again the sex workers rights and lives remain submerged in darkness. Still now they await government’s approval of their profession.
However, in some cases the government bodies, local parliamentarian and local people of some areas want to evict the brothels from the areas such as Tangail, Madaripur, Baniyasanta in Khulna etc. But it is very interesting to learn from the sex workers that these very same people run after them for votes when the election is knocking at the door.
While asking state minister about the eviction of the brothel, she answers, “Honorable High Court issued a judicial verdict not to evict the sex workers without rehabilitating them properly as their accommodation right with others basic rights are included here. So without perfect rehabilitation any eviction drives towards them is completely prohibited.”
Nasima Begum, Director General of Department of Social Services says, “We have 6 shelter homes in 6 divisions for them where they can rehabilitate perfectly. In the shelter home they will be provided food, shelter, clothing and some training by which they can do some work.”
“We have also run a project with UNFPA where the girls are provided 40000-45000 tk for rehabilitation and some training by which they can lead their livelihood.” She adds.
Dr. H K Arefeen, professor at anthropology department in University of Dhaka thinks the task to rehabilitate the sex worker is impossible. He says, “Rehabilitation in vagrant shelter home or conventional training facilities with some money never replaces the sex workers from their old profession. Vague promises of economical activities without social acceptance will not work. Besides, how many of them can the government rehabilitate?”
Joya Shikder, president of Sex Workers Network (SWN) of Bangladesh says, “The sex workers in every election vote to elect members of the parliament. That means they have the voting rights and contribution to the country through paying taxes and other costs. So why don’t they get facilities like other people?”
Sex workers from every corner of Bangladesh including brothel based sex workers and street based sex workers are now more or less becoming aware of their rights. But still there is no such initiative taken by government to support the brothel children for their normal physical and mental development. It is found that they could not reach proper education, health service, and their needs like regular children.
On the other hand, some NGOs, however, are doing some work with the brothel children but it is alleged by the sex workers that when the project period is over their children have to face such problem and crisis as before. Several sex workers claimed that their children could not achieve any kind of training which will support them for a long term.
“In Jessore now NGO activities is going down day by day. We do not find any medical facilities here. We have to pay money for our children’s education. Projects which were started to provide free education with others facilities now they take money from us. If we ask for reasons they tell us that there is no funding now” a sex worker from Marwari Mandir Brothel situated in Jessore, says wishing anonymity.
Society for Social Services (SSS) is a local NGO which is supposed to provide education and child development services in Tangail, Kandapara brothel. They have built a school in opposite site of the brothel and a safe home in Kuchbari area of Tangail. But this reporter found many complain against SSS from sex workers.
A few days ago two girls from the safe home of SSS came back to the brothel and taken on prostitution as a profession.
While contacting with M.A Latif Miah, director of SSS; he said, “If the mothers want to take their children back from here then there is nothing to do. We have tried to make the mother understand not to employ those girls in prostitution but they don’t understand.”
Many mothers in Tangail Brothel claimed that SSS does not provide good food and sufficient clothing which their children need. They only provide those needs where someone comes to visit there the Safe Home, usually this visitor is a foreigner the officials want to impress in order to wring a donation out of them. All these complaints are denied by Mr. Latif when confronted by this reporter.
It is alleged that the SSS are forcing children to engage in hard manual labour while showing off their deep affection for those children when any potential donors, who are generally foreigners, come to visit the safe homes.
He also says, “We can only afford 100 children here. More 50 applications are dropped in my office for taking 50 more children here. But for the lack of funding we cannot take those children. We have already talked to our donor for funding us so we can afford to care for more children.”
Same allegation was found against Jagoroni Chakra Foundation in Jessore. Many children who are the beneficiaries of the ‘Children of Heaven’ project run by Terre Des Hommes grumble that they have ruined the children’s life.
Maruf (not his real name), child of a sex worker who is searching a job for a long time says with tears in his eyes, “When they started this project they said they will bear all the costs of our livelihood and education but gradually they stopped funding us. When we ask about this they say they have no funding. If they don’t have any funding they how can they afford to live so luxuriously right in front of our very eyes?” asks Maruf with a tone soaked with grief.