Many action, little reaction ( Govt & N.G.O activities towards the sex workers in Bangladesh)

Sex working as a profession started a long time ago. According to experts this profession had been started in the Indian subcontinent during Mughal era. The then administration they allocated specific lands for the sex workers and imposed taxes on them for which the then government could earn a lot of remittance. With the expansion of the business, the demand for sex working gradually rose. Later, under the British Colonial period the brothels were established alongside the important trade centers with much importance. Most of the brothels in Bangladesh are established 150 to 200 years ago.

But after the independence of this country, the sex workers hardly found any support from the government. Since then, they are still deprived from any kind of citizen rights and also facing many obstacles from the society as well as government.

Then government needed to think about this when different organizations move for women’s right and express their unity with the sex workers. As the sex workers and their customers are the most vulnerable for the deadly disease HIV/AIDS and when this disease come to light the government with many international Donor agencies come forward to help these community and make them aware about the deadly disease.

Since 1998, now 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 are working for sex workers empowerment, providing education facilities for their children and make them aware about HIV/AIDS to change their lifestyle and to make them as human being as mainstreaming people.

Unfortunately, despite of several projects under different organizations around the country, still the sex workers are out of the light. From the visiting of several brothels, it is found that, still many under aged girls are involved by trafficking or forcefully in prostitution in most of the brothels around the country while sex workers are using Oradexon drug which causes a serious health hazard due to overusing and the most alarming threat of HIV virus due to lack of concern of using condoms.

In these circumstances, as the government 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 rising awareness among the sex workers.

However, several NGO employees are claimed that due to lack of government support and strict action NGOs are becoming toothless.

On the other hand, government officials are providing assurance as usual, for which the sex workers are still being submerged in their evil world like a slave.

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 making heavy their pocket. For these, we cannot do any proper work.”

On the other hand, “We cannot stop the trafficking and forcefully involving of under aged girls in brothels because government never take any strict action while our country’s constitution strictly prohibits the involving of the under aged girl in brothel or sex working” she adds.

While asking to State Minister Dr. Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Ministry of Women & Children Affairs about government enrollment to stop forcing under aged girl 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 thus under aged prostitution.”

However, Mohuya claimed, “Five members out of nine of Union parishad in Doulodia under Faridpur district are the sex worker’s Babu who force or inspire them to bring under aged girl in the brothel while the sex workers are willingly providing money to these members on the occasion of their election.”

“Even you will be surprised to know that the local police and some dishonest local journalists and lawyers are involved in providing money to bring under aged girls for which they are grabbing a lucrative amount of money by doing business with these under aged girls” she claimed.

A teacher from DU, requesting for anonymity, “Actually NGOs are doing business with the sex workers around the country. There is no need such NGOs if the government could do anything for them. By using the lack of knowledge, unity and weakness of these sex workers and the negligence of our society as well as government itself, these brothels and sex workers are only becoming a lucrative business for such NGOs.”

In 2010 the government recognized the profession of sex working for the first time on new voter ID card. After the 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 enter in the darkness. Still now they want the government approval of their profession.

“As these sex workers come into this profession for poverty and economical crisis so the main target of this present government is to provide them alternative service and reduce their economical crisis and rehabilitate them then.” The state minister adds.

Although the government have no allotment in the budget without some options to rehabilitate them from their profession but sex workers are still demanding their place in this country as its citizen.

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 Brothel, Madaripur brothel, Baniyasanta brothel in Khulna etc are the main. But it is very interesting to learn from the sex workers that these people run after them 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 rehabilitate them properly as their accommodation right with others basic rights are included here. So without perfect rehabilitation drive any eviction 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 be rehabilitating 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 oldest profession. Vague promises of economical activities without social acceptance will not work. Besides, how many would them government can rehabilitate?”

Mr Arefeen also says, “If the government has the target to rehabilitate the sex workers, they can run small scheme for those women and if the scheme will be successful they can run the scheme through well managed authority.”

Joya Shikder, president of Sex Workers Network (SWN) of Bangladesh says, “The sex workers in every election give vote to elect members of the parliament. That means they have the voting power and contribute to the country by paying taxes and others costs then why they don’t get facilities like others people?”

“Twenty two countries of the world have legalized the profession of sex working which means sex workers are licensed to operate their business without having fear about Police harassment and social resentment. In those countries sex workers can enjoy the basic rights of citizen.” She adds.

On the other hand, when the brothels of Nimtoli and Tanbazar was evicted in late 90s, then to reduce health and social risks NGOs come front to help the sex workers. Many international and local NGOs are now working for the development of the sex workers.

In 2002, 29 organizations come under the umbrella of Sex Workers Network (SWN) which vision is bringing all sex workers together across the country.

Shahnaz begum, former president of Durjoy Nari Sangha says, “We mainly make aware the sex workers about their rights. For this we observe many historical days, arrange meeting and provide them many training facilities. We also rescue the street sex workers from government shelter home or from police as such safe home is not really safe. But for this, we have to pay Tk 5000-10000 as bribe.”

Sex workers from every corner of Bangladesh including brothel based sex workers and street based sex workers are now more or less becoming aware about their rights. But still there is no such initiative taken by government to support the brothel children for the physical and mental development. It is found that they could not reach proper education, health service, and their needs like the mainstream 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 support 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 education which projects was started to provide free education with others facilities. But 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 hiding her anonymity.

Now a day’s some NGOs’ are working for providing education and health facilities and also trying to develop the children psychology through different co curricular activities. But the sex workers complain that these NGOs’ are working with very small portion of children which does not meet the others children need of the brothel.

Society for Social Services (SSS) is a local NGO which is supposed to provide education and child development 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 take the sex working as profession.

While contact with M.A Latif Miah, director of SSS says, “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 who is a foreigner. All these complain is denied by Mr. Latif while asking him by this reporter.

It is alleged that the SSS are forced to children for doing hard work while they only show off their deep affection to those children when any visitor, who are generally foreigners, come to visit the safe home.

He also says, “We can only afford 100 children here. More 50 applications are dropped in my office for taking more 50 children here. But for the lack of fund we cannot take those children. We have already talked to our donor for funding us to afford more children of sex workers.”

Same allegation was found against Jagoroni Chakra Foundation in Jessore. Many children who are the beneficiaries of the ‘children 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 to this reporter, “When they start this project they said they bear all the costs of our livelihood but day by day they stop funding us. While we ask about this they say a common answer they have no funding.”

“If they do not get any fund then how they could lead luxurious life every day?”  Maruf questioned to this reporter.

Like Maruf this reporter found many boys and girls who are now stop their study and spend idle time and search for a job which was also supposed to provide by the Jagoroni Chakra Foundation as they provided assurance to them before joining them. Some girls have got married and some on the other side some are divorced also.

All of them are now in a great hesitation. They cannot get good jobs as their educational qualification is not high on the other side they cannot involve in prostitution as they become aware about that.

“All the NGOs working with sex workers issues should think first where they want to see the sex workers in the society in near future then they have to go ahead with that motto. The government should clear the ambiguity of the law exist in our country for the sex workers” says Lutfun Nahar, manager of Social Justice under Action Aid.

“HIV is not the main issue; main issue is to make these people who are also the citizen of this country empowered with their dignity. Sex workers children supposed to be a sex worker- such mind set up should be changed and government should immediately protect these children from being abused” Nahar, who is working on sex workers since 2002, further adds.

“The most important responsibility we all have if we are committed to human rights, is to listen to our fellow citizens who are sex workers by occupation, and to hear what they have to say about their own lives and choices, and to ensure that minors are not forced into sex work (or other work)” says advocate Sara Hossain.

The teacher, who requested for anonymity, later says, “In the past the sex workers are fallen behind like at present, I think, their fate will not be changed in the future until the government will come forward to support them and take strict action to resolve such problems.

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