One day in evening while walking through the foot passageway in front of national parliament house of Bangladesh this reporter found some women in painted faces standing in shade of the trees there where lamp post light could not focus on them directly. They all are attracted men passing by them with their painted face and eye-catching dress up as they all are floated sex worker. They live by selling their bodies towards different ages, different classes people.
Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Sylhet, Khulna, and Barisal – The six major cities of this country have women in the streets who are selling sex. This portion of sex worker is also found in others area of this country.
However, their actual number never can be identified by Government or NGOs as they are shifting from one place from another place constantly. But as provided from different NGOs working in different areas of this country with street based sex worker it can be estimated that the number is nearly 150000. However, this number is increasing day by day.
Most of them are residing in the slums of the cities. Maximum comes in this profession of sex working after being harassed sexually in some way when they take work for livelihood as a garments worker or as a house maid. They are mostly come from poverty stricken family.
Now a days, street based sex workers are the most vulnerable portion of the sex workers community. They are commonly abused by their clients, local gangsters and which is most unfortunate for them that they are exploited by the police sometimes who are supposed to provide security, according to the street sex worker.
Sema, a girl about 15 years old who is waiting for customers in Chittagong railway station says, “The situation of this street based sex workers are really very unfriendly as the police constantly chase us and extort money from the customers. We have to provide money for doing this flesh trade to the night-guards and police. The police sometimes have sex with us. If we refuse to do doing sex with them, they beat us mercilessly.”
However, some middle men are active in this arena also. Sometimes these sex workers find customers with the help of such middlemen or pimps who are mainly rickshaw pullers, gate man, or hotel employees. But the problems here that the pimps seize the maximum portion of the money of the sex workers while this is mostly occurred in the tourism places of the country.
While this reporter approaches a customer with a street based sex worker named Poli in a hotel in Cox’s Bazar, the customer says, “I have hired a rickshaw puller for arranging a sex worker for me here for which I have to pay Tk 3000 for arranging her(poli). That rickshaw puller then took me to two different middlemen and later I finally met with this girl in exchange of a big amount.”
When asking Poli about how much she paid for this customer, she answered with the rolling tear upon her face that she got only Tk 300. She also tells if she does not depends on those pimps they don’t get any customers. But they do not pay her as much which really needs to feed her children and herself also.
The hardest part of street life living sex worker is the violence inflicted by the local gangsters who not only snatch away their petite income but also harassed them physically. Maximum sex workers in this street life have marks of violation in their faces. Sometimes these floating sex workers are murdered by those local thugs.
Different newspapers reports for several times about such murder of a sex workers. According to the reports, last year in different times about 30-35 street based sex workers were murdered for different reasons.
Shahnaj Begum, ex- president of Durjoy Nari Shangha says, “If we go to Police station for file a case of violation against sex workers police refuses us to take such cases. They also harass us saying, “Why there is need any legal help for prostitute?”
“If the police tell us khanki (a local slang word for prostitute) then the mainstream people also ignore us. We demand to change this word ‘prostitute’ from the dictionary as we are also workers by our labor. We earn money for our livelihood selling our body towards man. So the mainstream people should identify us as sex workers” She demanded.
There are many sex workers now in the street who were evicted from Kandupatti brothel of Dhaka and Tanbazar brothel of Narayanganj. One of them Parul who is also the vice president of Ulka Nari Sangha says, “Now a days you can find many floating sex workers in Dhaka streets who are evicted from two main brothel of this country. It is not a good sign because when a brothel is evicted the workers there come down to the streets which cause more social corrosion and increase the number of street based sex worker alarmingly.”
It is often occurred that these sex workers are oppressed by the customers. They sometimes take their sex service without money, sometimes they hit them seriously.
Aleya (not her real name) whispers, “People have long forgotten that we are human too. Some days are rough. They tell you they will pay you for sleeping with one man, and when you turn up, you see more than one, sometimes ten, even thirty. There is no running away, no pleading, no escape.”
“Even if I cannot take it anymore, I am beaten up and forced into it. But if I am forced into it, it won’t be rape because I am a prostitute — a commodity that has no right,” she says, looking away.
“Sometimes we are taken to the Safe Home by Police where we face many kinds of problems. This place is another hell for us. There the sirs (official) use us without paying and sometimes they tell us to work in their home as maid servant and tell us to free from that hell. But after using us they don’t free us from that safe home.” she adds.
Some sex workers claimed that the safe home is not really safe. There the environment is much worse than the situation in the street. The food quality, sanitary situation and other facilities are not given as it is said. They also complain that they have to pay 5000-10000 tk for getting free from the Safe Home.
Hena akhter, who was once a street based sex worker, says, “We are deprived of health facilities very often. A street based sex worker has given birth of a child in Dhaka Medical College (DMC) few days ago. But it is a matter of misfortune that the mother was detected STD (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) in her by doctor there in the hospital. Then they kept the mother with her new born child in the veranda of the hospital in the winter night. Is it her wrong to have diseases in her body or is it wrong to be a sex worker? Are they not human being?”
“We are also the citizen of the country with voting power in election. Again we the same people are deprived of our rights as we are the sex workers.” Hena, the general secretary of Sex Workers Network (SWN), adds.
Rahima Begum, President of Durjoy Nari Sangha says, “All sex workers are enjoying basic rights of being a citizen of a country like mainstream people. But we have to enjoy it in secret way as we are sex workers. The society never accepts them normally without treating them impure. As a result being a human we have to hide their main identity as a sex worker in fear of depreciation or harassment.”
“The government should give the sex worker the professional identification. Sex workers are the daughters of the land and they have not come to this land from an alien country. Floating sex workers were subjected to repression on the streets almost daily. Government should protect us from such repression and harassment” Rahima claims.