The Prisoners of Daulatdia: Prostitution and Human Trafficking in Bangladesh

Located in Bangladesh, Daulatdia is one of the largest brothels in the world. It has existed since British colonial times and embodies a different world beyond the culturally conservative society of Bangladesh. 

As Daulatdia is located between the ferry port and the transit road, between 3,000 (CNN) and 3,500 (ARTE) clients, most of them truck drivers, frequent the brothel daily. Between 1,500 (ARTE) and 2,000 (Vice News) prostitutes work in the brothel; approximately half of them are minors and the vast majority are victims of human trafficking and slavery. 


Although Bangladesh is one of the few Muslim countries in which prostitution has been legalized, the practice is extremely unregulated. Those involved receive little protection, and trafficking and sex with minors is rarely prosecuted. Furthermore, the use of alcohol and drugs is illegal in Bangladesh, and since sex, drugs and alcohol are readily available in Daulatdia, the brothel is condemned as a sinful, immoral underworld. Consequently, Daulatdia’s prostitutes, as well as their children, are marginalized, stigmatized, and excluded from society. Often disowned by their families, the exit is difficult. Once you enter Daulatdia, you remain a prisoner for life.


Few come to Daulatdia voluntarily. According to a 2018 study by the Society for Environment and Human Development, 80% of the 135 sex workers interviewed were trafficked or lured into brothels under false pretenses (CNN). Often, traffickers ambush them outside sewing factories, promising them better work with higher pay and building trust under false pretenses. In many cases, the young women are sold by acquaintances, such as neighbors or even family members. Most of the victims come from violent families and poor backgrounds. In addition, a large number of the girls are illiterate with very low levels of education, which makes it much more difficult for them to leave prostitution. Once trafficked, the girls are sold to so-called “madams” for 200 (CNN) to 385 (Vice News) euros, depending on their age and attractiveness. To these “madams,” or older women who run the brothels, the trafficked girls must pay rent and pay off their debts, which is their purchase price. This leads to intricate, grim spirals of dependency that make it nearly impossible to get out. Thus, the girls and women struggle daily to survive out of economic hardship. They are victims of sexual slavery and suffer daily from the psychological and physical consequences of their work. 


Daulatdia’s prostitutes report violent clients who bite, beat, and punch them. In addition, many clients are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, which increases their tendency  to be violent. This often leads them to consume with the prostitutes, especially at so-called “kitty parties.” In addition, many prostitutes, due to economic hardship, forgo contraception, making STDs more easily spread and many become pregnant. During the COVID-19 pandemic, most mothers found it considerably difficult to feed their children.  

Another problem is the often forced consumption of steroids such as Oradexone and Ventolin. Young girls in particular are given steroids by their madams, which are actually used to build up muscle mass in cattle, so that they look older and conform to the curvy beauty ideal of Bangladesh. The steroids, which can be bought anywhere in Daulatdia, for very little money and without a prescription, quickly become addictive and lead to diabetes, epileptic seizures, liver damage, kidney failure, and in the worst cases even death. Life expectancy for women in Daulatdia is low. 


Young girls in particular suffer severe psychological consequences as many lose their virginity in painful, traumatic ways and receive between 10 and 12 clients per day. It is estimated that about half of all prostitutes are minors. This is because girls aged 12-14 years old are the most desired (Vice News) and sex with virgins pays 20 times more (ARTE). 

But it is not only young girls who suffer. Many women report depression and having suicidal thoughts. Rejected by society and their families, they feel lonely and unloved. Many long for a normal life, a loving husband and a family. Sadly, these women have internalized society’s stigma and project the condemnation of others onto themselves. They are ashamed of their jobs and their lives and wish “their children could grow up far away from you so they could become good people” (CNN). 


Daulatdia’s prostitutes have no official rights and no legal protection. Excluded from society, exploited, and trapped by the madams, and endangered by the physical and physical risks of their profession, they are defenseless and vulnerable. 

This makes the work of numerous local NGOs that have provided food and resources during the pandemic and raised the children of prostitutes in institutions all the more important. The work of the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust is also vital as it helps girls and women get out by offering legal aid, providing shelter, and helping them reintegrate into their families (CNN). 

Translate by Emily Schiffer

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