Thousands of underage girls have been sold by traffickers into brothels in Bangladesh according to new reporting from The Guardian. Many of them are trapped, told they cannot leave until they pay back fabricated debts and threatened if they attempt to run away.
One girl interviewed explained that, “The madam who bought me said that I had to pay her back. She’d bribed the police to say I was 18 [the legal age for a registered sex worker] and told me I owed her more than £914. Then she confiscated my phone and locked me in my bedroom. She said that she’d hurt me if I tried to run away.”
Eventually she stopped trying to run away. “They always find you,” she said.
The Guardian reports:
As part of this investigation, more than 20 underage girls in four of the brothels showed us their notarised certificates stating they were over 18. One girl admitted she was still 13. “It’s law enforcement, it’s the local mafia,” says Mahmudul Kabir, Bangladesh country director for the Netherlands-based NGO Terre des Hommes. “And it goes through the entire chain of power.”
“The Bangladeshi police know everything that takes place in the brothels,” says Azharul Islam, programme manager of Rights Jessore, a local non-governmental organisation working to rehabilitate trafficked children working in the sex trade and return them to their families. “The brothel owners are involved in gangs, and our political leaders and law enforcement are involved in those gangs, too.” Corrupt government officials profit by accepting bribes and sexual favours in exchange for turning a blind eye to the abuse.
The steady stream of women and children being trafficked into Bangladesh’s sex industry means that the girls are disposable to those making money out of them. The numbers killing themselves has reached a point where at least two brothels in central Bangladesh – Kandapara, on the on the outskirts of Tangail, and Daulatdia, on the banks of the Padma river – have had to built private graveyards to cope with the dead.
Prostitution is legal in Bangladesh, legalized in 2000 following the outcry over the year-long detention of 100 sex workers by police. However, human trafficking laws that should protect girls trafficked into brothels are failing due to poor enforcement and abysmal conviction rates.
Although more than 6,000 people have been arrested in connection with human trafficking since 2013, only 25 have been convicted. Last year, only 8 people in the entire country were convicted for trafficking.