The Kandapara brothel has been around for 200 years. Its walls separate two completely different worlds
Bangladesh is one of the few Muslim countries in the world where prostitution is legal.
The Kandapara brothel in the district of Tangail has existed for some 200 years.
It’s the oldest and second-largest in the country.
Although it was torn down in 2014, prostitution has returned to the area.
Many of the women were born there, grew up there and didn’t know where to go when the brothel disappeared.
Those who support the brothel claim that sex work is just like any other job and that these women don’t want to do any other type of work.
In fact, there have been women’s collectives who have fought to defend the rights of these workers.
At the end of 2014, the Bangladesh Women’s Lawyers Association convinced the High Court that evicting these sex workers was an illegal act. The women could quickly return to their homes.
Today, the brothel district is surrounded by a wall.
There are food stalls, tea shops and street vendors in the narrow streets.
The brothel has its own rules and hierarchies of power which are entirely different from mainstream society outside the walls.
Inside the brothel, women are the weakest but also the most powerful.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the most vulnerable stage is when the women enter the brothel.
Most of them are usually about 12-14 years of age and come from low-income families that are the victims of trafficking. They are called “bonded girls” as they’re not allowed to say “no” to any of the customers.
These child prostitutes belong to a madam; they have debts and are not allowed outside the confines of the brothel or to have their own money.
When it’s considered they’ve paid off all their debts (something that can take between one to five years), they then become independent sex workers.
Then and only then, can they decide who to have sex with and keep their own money.
Once the woman has paid off all her debts, she’s free to leave the brothel, but these women are socially stigmatised and very often decide to stay there and earn money to support their families.
In Kandapara, the women are born, grow up and work as prostitutes all their lives.