Warning: The following story contains graphic images and may be disturbing to some readers.
It’s one of the oldest professions in the world. And though the act of selling one’s body is frowned upon in my societies, doing so is still viewed as work in areas of Bangladesh, one of the few Muslim countries where prostitution remains legal.
In the district of Tangail, one will find the Kandapara brothel, which is the oldest and second largest brothel in the country, reports The Independent. The area and its purpose have existed for the last 200 years. In 2014, however, the Kandapara brothel was destroyed. As a result, many women didn’t know where to go. So, with the help of local NGOs, it was restarted once again.
Recently, photojournalist Sandra Hoyn traveled to the “brothel district” and documented what life is like inside the walled city. Food stall, tea shops, and street vendors can be found in the narrow streets, and the city is said to have its own rules and hierarchies of power which differ greatly from mainstream society. One example Hoyn shared is that the women are both weak and powerful.
Also included in this story are telling images of the distressful life these women lead in their small world captured by renowned Bangladeshi photojournalist Andrew Biraj.
Girls who enter the industry, usually at age 12 to 14, are labeled as “bonded.” The women who work in the legal industry often come from poor families and, sometimes, may be victims of trafficking. They have no freedom or rights – they belong to a ‘madam’. For at least the first five years (on average), a bonded girl is not allowed to go outside and receives no money for her work. When she had paid her debts, she may then become an independent sex worker. At that point, she is allowed to refuse customers and is able to keep her own money. Because the women are socially stigmatized outside of the brothel district, many choose to remain and continue supporting their families from afar with what is earned.
Hoyn told NextShark:
“At the beginning, it was difficult to get access to the women and customers. Some customers didn’t want to be in the photographs, especially those with a rich family. But other customers didn’t care at all about it. Some told me they want to “refresh their mind” inside the brothel and there is nothing wrong with it, so why should they hide?”
“Some girls hide their face and didn’t want to tell their stories, others have been very open and wanted to tell about their life,” she added.