An Inside Story From One Of Bangladesh’s Oldest Brothels

The Kandapara brothel in Tangail City is said to be over 200-years-old and is Bangladesh’s second largest and oldest brothel. Unlike most of the Muslim Countries where public sex and prostitution is forbidden, Bangladesh is one of the few where prostitution is legal. Prostitution in Bangladesh has lasted for centuries and is still rooted deep until now.

Back in the year 2014, the Kandapara brothel had been demolished, following the constant pressure from the locals, Muslim clerics, and civil activists. The aftermath of the chaos where protesters threatened to burn the brothel down had almost 700 prostitutes flee their home in fear with no food and shelter. All their belongings were looted by the locals as they prepared themselves to leave.

Despite the brothel being demolished, supporters of the brothel believe that the sex work is all the work they wished to do and the women inside want to continue working in the brothel as it pays them good money and daily livelihood. After a series of protest from the sex workers, local NGOs eventually helped them establish their lost homes.

With the help of the local NGOs, the women protested against the demolition of their home and at the end of 2014, the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association convinced the High Court to restore the sex workers’ settlement and that the eviction of the sex workers is an illegal act. The sex workers then safely returned to their homes afterward.

The brothel was set up during the British Colonial era and has over 200 years of history. Their daily incomes were around 1,000 taka ( $12). Most of the underage prostitutes might have sex up to 20 men every day. Some reports even suggest malnourished sex workers taking Oradexon, a drug mostly used for livestock, to fatten, alter their appearance, and make them look more beautiful and healthier. Hashi, 17, who was lured into the sex trade by a trafficker when she was just 10 and began taking steroids, said the following in an interview.

“There is a huge difference between my appearance now and the malnourished look of my childhood.”

Bangladesh Oldest brothel
Even though the law says sex workers must be 18-years-old, most of the recruited girls are still underage between the age of 12 to 17. Many underage girls come from poor families and some come from trafficking from around the countries and from southeast Asia including Nepal.

The area is surrounded by a wall of two meters in height and in it lies narrow streets where there are tea shops and street vendors. The walled city of brothels has its own rules and regulations which are completely different from the mainstream society.

Inside the brothel, the women are weak but also powerful. A bonded girl is the one who is new to the brothel and has just entered the brothel. They are usually 12 -14 years of age, and these girls mostly have a poor background and are often the victims of trafficking. They are sold to the brothel for a reasonable amount of money and during their time in the brothel, they have debt that needs to be repaid to their madam.

Distributed condoms scattered around Kandapara brothel
They are not allowed to go outside or keep their money. Once their debts are cleared, they become independent and can leave the brothel to start anew. But women who have completely devoted their lives in the brothel seldom seek independence. They often choose to stay inside the wall and continue supporting their families with their incomes. They have nowhere to go but to settle in the brothel where they could earn money and raise their families.

Customers in this brothel are mainly policeman, politicians, farmers, factory workers, and teenagers. Some of these men come for sex, while others visit for love and the company of a woman. Many of the clients enjoy drinking alcohol, which is forbidden outside for Muslims. Women do not wear hijabs while they stay inside the brothel, but they wear them when they step out back in the real world.

[Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images]