Amader Kotha, a site dedicated to women's issues in Bangladesh reports that at least 35,000 children are being exploited sexually on a commercial basis in the country. More than half of them live in the official red light districts of the country and are often forced to enter the profession that their mothers have been in.
TThe sexual exploitation of children in Bangladesh is a widespread problem. To start of with Bangladesh is a densely populated country with nearly 40 per cent of the dwellers living below the poverty line. While there are few reliable stats that deal with the sexual exploitation of children, it is estimated that at least 35,000 children are exploited sexually on a commercial basis. Twice that number of Bangladeshi children is involved in prostitution in Pakistan and a similar figure is seen in India as well.
Statistics show that majority of the Bangladeshi children who are compelled to get into prostitution are based in brothels. According to a Unicef research there are more than 20,000 children who live in the official red light districts of the country and are often forced to enter the profession that their mothers have been in. The boys on the other hand, often become pimps and contribute in their own way.
Human Rights Watch reports that girls involved in child labour, such as working in factories and as domestic workers are more vulnerable to rape and sexual exploitationas they lack adequate adult protection. While they may flee to escape such abuse, often they find that prostitution is the only option open to them for survival. Once in prostitution, girls are further marginalised, making it all the more difficult to extricate themselves from such exploitation.
The report also suggests that sexual exploitation of children is also rampant among street children. Another factor that helps promote sexual exploitation is the prevalent dowry system in Bangladesh. A number of poor families are often unable to fulfil the dowry demands placed on them by the groom’s family. As a result of which, the groom’s family often end up torturing the girl on a daily basis. This leads to severe mental trauma for the girl. It eventually leads to the girl fleeing. However, she moves from one trap to another. Running away, she can only look at prostitution as a saving grace in terms of finance.
One report also suggests that once girls are married, their husbands are forced to engage in sexual activities for financial purposes, in the markets, railway stations, bridges and various other desolate places. According to the report, “Some pimps use city hotels or rented private flats in certain parts of the city for sexual exploitation. Men involved in small businesses such as operators/vendors (36%), beggars and day labourers (17.2%), as well as the police and security guards (9.6%), were among the largest groups of sexual exploiters of street children.”
The report also stated that the key factors that drove children into situations of exploitation were poverty, hunger, the need to earn money, sexual abuse by employers, family members or other men and the threat and force by pimps and others in their environment.
While majority of the sexual crimes in Bangladesh are committed against girls, boys too become victims to a certain degree. And their plight, more often than not ends up going unnoticed. Various stats indicate that young boys living on the street, migrant boys and boys working as child labourers are especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
According to the Global Monitoring Report in 2006, the average age of entry into prostitution was around 12 years old, with many boys having been sexually exploited at a much younger age, some nearly as 8 years old.
Once trapped, they are made to continue through various forms of coercion, such as torture and threats of going public about their prostitution. 50 per cent of the boys, according to the study, stated that the adjustment of having sex with men gradually killed their motivation to escape. It also stated that mental trauma, low self-esteem and fear of stigmatisation were strong features of the experience of boys in the study.
According to a study by Ain O Salish Kandra, Thirty-four per cent of the children had 3 to 8 customers a day. Almost 70 per cent of them suffered from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and others had skin diseases, pain and infection of the sexual organs and symptoms of malnutrition and pregnancy.
Mentally they suffered from frustration, anger, dejection and a host of other strong feelings. Girls too, reportedly suffered from low self-esteem with more frequency than boys. Many children also induced suicidal tendencies in them.
While governmental agencies and non-governmental agencies have set up programmes to counter these problems, there is still a long way to go before a decisive change can be made. The stats speak for themselves. As Bangladesh approaches the midway of 2013, on its path to becoming a developing nation, it is for us to see as the extent of decisive changes that can be made over the upcoming years.