Photo Essays | Society | South Asia

The Brothels of Bangladesh

Bangladeshi sex workers are beginning to organize in a bid to improve their harsh, abusive working conditions.

By Miguel Candela and Zigor Aldama for
The Brothels of Bangladesh

A sex worker with a client in the dark and narrow hallways of the brothel. With young girls most in demand, older women find it tough to survive.

Credit: Miguel Candela
The Brothels of Bangladesh

In Faridpur, a rural district near Dhaka, these outcast women were forced to live and work in a brothel.

Credit: Miguel Candela
The Brothels of Bangladesh

A young girl takes a brief moment to forget the harsh realities of the brothel. It is not rare to find girls between 7 and 13 years old involved in prostitution.

Credit: Miguel Candela
The Brothels of Bangladesh

Rojina used to work as a textile worker, until she had an affair with a family member. In their rage, her family nearly stabbed her to death, before forcing her out on the street, where she has had to turn to sex work to make a living. To this day, Rojina sends part of her meager earnings to her family, in hopes of being forgiven.

Credit: Miguel Candela
The Brothels of Bangladesh

Prostitutes gather water inside the brothel. These women earn barely enough to put food on the table, living in quarters that are barely habitable.

Credit: Miguel Candela
The Brothels of Bangladesh

After being raped, Lima (15) was forced to work as a prostitute. She has 7 to 12 clients each day.

Credit: Miguel Candela
The Brothels of Bangladesh

Julie’s father, her family’s sole breadwinner, was left disabled after a traffic accident. She agreed to work in a brothel to help make ends meet.

Credit: Miguel Candela
The Brothels of Bangladesh

A sex worker hides behind a customer.

Credit: Miguel Candela
The Brothels of Bangladesh

Clients demand younger girls. Older sex workers become madams. The cycle continues.

Credit: Miguel Candela
The Brothels of Bangladesh

Society forces these Bangladeshi sex workers to live in the shadows, while men both demand their services and condemn them.

Credit: Miguel Candela

Prostitution in Bangladesh has been legal since 2000, although discouraged. Child prostitution is widespread. Bangladesh is predominantly Islamic, but despite strict restrictions, severe poverty has forced many women into sex work.

Female sex workers are often abused. Now, however, they have begun to organize. One group, the Prostitute Association of Faridpur, was founded in Faridpur district, near the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka. These associations were formed to establish a “union” among sex workers and protect themselves from abuse.

Meanwhile, Islamic conservatives openly condemn the women. In 2010, radicals burned a brothel to the ground, injuring two women and leaving all of the tenants destitute.

One sex worker called Hasina remembers the day. “We lost everything and had  to jump into the river,” she recalls. “We even didn’t have clothes to wear and we were forced to live for a month and a half out in the streets.” No arrests have been made.

The associations, together with countless protest actions demanding equal rights, are beginning to make their presence felt. At least now, sex workers are finally allowed a proper burial in a cemetery, albeit in a separate lot.

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Still, progress is slow. Thirty-seven-year-old Ahya Begum, president of the Prostitute Association of Faridpur, laments, “Society uses us to fulfill their human needs, but treats us like animals.”

Zigor Aldama is the Far East correspondent for Vocento, the largest media group in Spain, and a contributor to El País newspaper, and is based in Shanghai. Miguel Candela is an award-winning Spanish photographer based in Hong Kong. Follow him on Twitter @miguelcandela_.