Monday, March 3, 2003

Bangladeshi sex workers demand end to police harassment

CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh — Sex workers in Bangladesh Monday staged demonstrations to demand rights recognition and an end to police harassment.

Some 50 people gathered in front of the Press Club in this southeastern port city carrying banners that read "Stop repression and torture" and "Rehabilitate us, we want our rights".

Non-governmental organisations, which organised the rally to mark International Sex Workers Day, said it was the first ever demonstration by sex workers in the ordinarily conservative city.

Prostitution is largely tolerated in Bangladesh, which has at least 18 brothels with around 2,500 registered sex workers, according to the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association.

But authorities have in recent years cracked down, pushing much of the sex industry underground.

A similar demonstration was held in the capital Dhaka.

One of the protesters, Fuli, in her late 30s, said she and her fellow workers were harassed by police and had to give them money or provide their services for free.

"This must come to an end as we prostitutes have to earn our bread like any other profession," added Papiya at the Chittagong rally.

"I was kidnapped and sold to a brothel in this city and have compromised my lifestyle, but I want my rights," another demonstrator, Hasina Akhter, a 15-year-old orphan, told AFP. There are no estimates of underage sex workers in Bangladesh.

Mohammad Khaled, editor of Bengali-language daily Azadi, told the Chittagong rally that sex workers' rights must be ensured.

"Circumstances in society forced them to become sex workers and we must do our bit to give them a better life," he said.

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Created: April 13, 2003
Last modified: April 13, 2003
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