Being a commercial sex worker comes with its fair share of challenges. While the money could be good for those with a special talent in bagging extremely rich clients, society won’t stop stigmatizing and treating them as lesser beings.
While prostitution is not allowed in many parts of the world, Bangladesh is one of the few Muslim countries in the world where prostitution is legal for women aged 18 and above, with the workers required to hold a certificate stating they are adults, and consent to the work. But at this time and age where child trafficking is a thing, girls as young as seven years old, find their way into these brothels ready to make both ends meet.
Daulatdia, one of the largest brothels in Bangladesh and the world, servicing more than 3,000 men daily, established a century ago under British colonial rule and has been a home for thousands of sex workers and their children, living in dilapidated conditions that have seen many die in poverty forcing their young ones to get involved in prostitution at an early age.
For decades, when one of them died their bodies would be thrown in the river, or buried in the mud until the local authorities offered them gave some wasteground for unmarked graves where their families would pay drug addicts to carry out burials, usually at night without formal prayers.
But there is hope for a decent burial for them as the local authorities, councillors and regional police leaders backed the efforts to break this discriminatory taboo, following a formal Islamic funeral for one of their own. Hamida Begum, a 65-year-old sex worker became the first woman to be accorded decent burial that saw throngs of women attend it.
When she passed on, the idea was to have her buried in an unmarked grave which is the standard practice for women like her, but a group of sex workers persuaded the local police to talk religious leaders into giving her a proper burial.
“I never dreamed that she would get such an honorable farewell. My mother was treated like a human being,” Begum’s daughter said.
Over 200 mourners attended the religious function and many more flocked the post-funeral feast and prayers to mark a new beginning for commercial sex workers in the region and the world across.