With 1300 sex workers, almost 900 children and about 500 shopkeepers supporting the trade, Daulatdia is the largest residential brothel in Bangladesh, one of the biggest in the world.
The Brothel provides service for 3000 men daily
Most workers know they will never leave, now some are taking action to ensure their children don’t suffer same fate
There is a brothel in Bangladesh that services 3,000 men a day. Sixteen hundred women live and work there. Daulatdia, the biggest brothel in Bangladesh Daulatdia is Bangladesh’s largest brothel-village, and while most of the sex workers know they will never leave, some are taking action to ensure their children don’t suffer the same fate.
Sex workers waiting for clients in front of their rooms. Conditions for sex workers vary according to their place in the brothel hierarchy.
17-year-old Shumi. managed to escape Daulatdia. But she is one a vey lucky few.
The Story of Shumi
Shumi is a 17-year-old dispalced far from her rural home. She came to the city with the promise of working in a garment factory to send money home to her ageing parents. But there is no factory here, no city lights or whirring industry. Just a dusty, pot-holed highway with a queue of lorries and cattle trucks and buses stretching as far as the eye can see, waiting their turn for an ancient ferry to cross the vast Padma and Jamuna Rivers.
Leaning into this curve of highway is Daulatdia, a shanty town of corrugated iron and battered bricks. Shumi came here with an older woman who visited her village touting the promise of city jobs. But now she has gone. The last time the wide-eyed teenager saw her chaperone, she was tucking crumpled banknotes into the folds of her sari as she disappeared into Daulatdia’s maze of alleys without a backward glance.
Shumi has been sold. For less than $200, her future has been deposited here, in a tiny room with a rag over a window and blankets strewn across a creaking bed. She has joined a production line, after all, albeit one where the business is lust and the output is pleasure for up to 3000 male visitors each day. With a population of more than 1600 sex workers, almost 900 children and about 500 shopkeepers supporting the trade, Daulatdia is the largest residential brothel in Bangladesh – and one of the biggest in the world.
For more than six decades, it has serviced the hordes of men who travel the highway, one of the busiest trade routes in the country, as they wait to cross the Padma River, and anyone else who cares to make the trip from Dhaka, about 70 km east.
A Corrugated city of hell for 1600 women, Daulatdia, the most notorious brothel-village in Bangladesh, is a lifelong trap for most of its sex workers.
And this much Shumi also now knows: she cannot go back to her village. She has no phone number and no money, and even if she could find her way there, there would be no home for her now. She is no longer daughter; she is a whore, the carrier of a scourge worse than any disease: the curse of shame.
And so she waits. She endures the beatings from her “landlady” and gets to know the other young chukri, or bonded prostitutes, who work the madam’s rooms. During the day, Shumi sometimes joins them as they throw back their glittering headscarves, giggling, to share dreams of one day paying off their bonds and renting one of Daulatdia’s 2500 or so rooms independently. But her eyes are always veiled.
Tonight, she lies still as the breathing of the man in the bed beside her steadies and deepens. She sees her chance. Until now, her obvious youth has been an enemy, drawing the gaze of lascivious visitors ever-hungry for new flesh. But this evening, as she stealthily pulls on her client’s hat and coat, she is grateful she is still coltish. She might just pass for a gawky university student who has jumped a train down from Dhaka to take his turn with the girls of Daulatdia.
For once, too, the village’s nightly heave of drug-fuelled hedonism is her friend, as Shumi slips unnoticed toward one of the brothel’s narrow gateways. She has managed what few before her have achieved. As the girl flees towards the railway tracks, she passes first through a rocky, rubbish-strewn field behind the brothel. Denied burial on consecrated ground, it is here, in unmarked graves, that most of the women of Daulatdia will end their days.
At what age does a child realise he or she is unclean? When does a young boy understand his place of birth has robbed him of any right to an education or healthcare, or a girl that she exists for only one awful thing?
“More than half of Bangladesh’s 60 million children are estimated to be living below the poverty line.”
“And among them, children of sex workers, in and out of brothels, are undoubtedly some of the most vulnerable, because they are already ostracised from the community and routinely denied basic rights like education and public health.”
While prostitution is officially illegal in the moderate Muslim country, the Bangladeshi government has been no more successful than any other modern administration at stamping out the street sex trade in its sprawling cities. It also tolerates 14 “registered” brothels, most of which are concentrations of 100-plus sex workers living and working in self-contained communities.
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