BROTHELS IN BANGLADESH

“I used to be happy before. Now, I cry a lot in the evenings. I cry because of my fate which brought me here.”

The words belong to Halima, a teenager with a sincere, childlike smile. She stands in a doorway in central Jessore, the last town in Bangladesh before the Indian border. The streets outside are busy, lined with vendors and shops. Everything is for sale here: bananas, rice, hardware, textiles. And women. The doorway leads in to one of Jessore’s biggest brothels.

“I was brought here a few years ago, I lived in the streets at that time. A man took me to Daulatdia, the biggest brothel in Bangladesh. He sold me to the owners, who kept me in a room and gave me drugs. Then, a man suddenly came in and started taking off my clothes. I was so scared, I didn’t understand what was happening.”

She continues to tell her story as she walks inside. Clothes hang to dry from the balconies, the air smells of frying oil and chilli. Someone is putting on make-up in front of a mirror. Red lips, a layer of whitening cream covering her face.

Halima doesn’t know her age exactly, but she thinks she’s 17. She has lived in different brothels since that first day she was taken away.

“I dream about having a family, just like everyone else. But I don’t think I will ever have that life.”

Halima’s story represents that of many others in her country. Bangladesh, which has the eight-largest population in the world, is a major global trafficking spot. Each year, numerous women, children and men are taken from their homes, sold and exploited. While men mainly fall victims to forced labour, women and children are brought into the global sex industry.

“It’s sad because it shows that value of the human being is absolutely zero. People who live in poverty are extremely vulnerable, and end up in this because there are no other options,” says Tawhidur Rahman, a Dhaka-based researcher on forced labour and prostitution.

Trafficking, servitude, modern-day slavery – whichever the term, it’s about deliberate exploitation of human beings. And basically every country in the world is affected, whether as a place of origin, transit or destination. More than 20 million people are victims of trafficking globally, according to the UN, the large majority from countries in the developing world. The most prominent flow originates in eastern Asia, which is a sending region to all other parts of the globe.