These Photographs Reveal Hellish Life Of Women In Bangladesh’s 200-Year-Old Brothel

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Bangladesh is one of the few Muslim countries where prostitution is legal.

Country’s Tangail district houses brothel that has existed for 200 years. Kandapara brothel is the oldest and second largest brothel in the country.

Demolished in 2014, the women who grew up there didn’t know where to go. Later, it re-started. Many of the prostitutes have always lived there; some were sold into prostitution by their families, and others were abducted from their villages. German-based photojournalist, Sandra Hoyn, who visited Kandapara, has documented the life of its sex workers.

She writes about her experience after visiting Kandapara- “The brothel district is surrounded by a two-meter wall. In the narrow streets, there are food stalls, tea shops, and street vendors. A brothel is a place with its own rules and hierarchies which are often completely different from the mainstream society.

Read the story to find more about those who spend their lives in the Kandapara brothel, Bangladesh.
1. Kandapara brothel

1. Kandapara brothel

The brothel is huge. It is like a city within a city. In the narrow streets, there are food stalls, tea shops, and street vendors.
2. Customers inside the brothel.

2. Customers inside the brothel. Sex workers in Bangladesh are not treated as normal citizens. Poor girls are forced into prostitution. They are owned by a Madam. Sex workers are not allowed to go outside, and they pay a major part of their earnings to her.

3. Megha with a customer.

3. Megha with a customer. Megha, 23, started working at a garment factory at the age of 12. There, she met a man who offered her a better paying job. He sold her into a brothel.

4. The official age.

4. The official age.

Officially, sex workers must be 18 years old, but most of them are underage. Some of them take steroids like Oradexon, a drug used by farmers to fatten livestock, to look older and healthier. The most vulnerable stage is when a young sex worker enters the brothel as a bonded girl. They are usually 12 to 14 years of age.

5. Asma with a customer.

Asma, 14, was born in Kandapara brothel. She stopped attending school when students harassed her because her mother worked as a sex worker. She has also become a sex worker now. Earlier, she used to dance in front of customers.

7. A customer tries to kiss Priya.

7. A customer tries to kiss Priya.

Priya began working at Kandapara brothel at the age of 17.

Once the sex workers repay debt, which can take up to five years, they become independent sex workers and are allowed to refuse customers.
Sandra Hoyn says, “From the moment a woman has paid her debts, she is free to leave the brothel. But these women are socially stigmatized and thus often chose to stay and continue supporting their families with their earnings.”

8. Kajol with her six-month-old baby.

Kajol is on a bed with her six-month-old daughter, Mehedi. Two weeks after giving birth, she was forced to have sex with customers. Because of the baby, her business is not good. She thinks she is 17 but does not know her exact age. She was married when she was 9. Her aunt sold her to the brothel.

Sandra Hoyn said, “At the beginning, it was difficult to get access to women and customers. Some customers didn’t want to be photographed, especially those from a rich family. But other customers didn’t care at all about it. Some told me they want to ‘refresh their minds’ inside the brothel and there is nothing wrong about it. So why should they hide?”

9. Pakhi with a customer.

Pakhi, 15, is with a customer in her room. She has lived here since she was 14. She got married at 12 and ran away shortly after that. A man picked her from the street and sold her into a brothel.

According to Sandra Hoyn, some girls hid their face and didn’t want to tell their stories while others were open and wanted to tell about their lives.10. Sumaiya with her customer.

10. Sumaiya with her customer.

Sumaiya is 17 years old and is with her regular customer who is also her boyfriend. His name is Titu who is 23 and belongs to Dhaka. He visits her every month for a week.

The price of the service depends on the age and beauty of a sex worker and how nice their rooms are.

11. Sumaiya was beaten-up.


Sumaiya gets beaten by Titu as they often fight. Titu wants to marry her but she refuses. She is afraid that he will take away all her money after marriage. He is jealous because she has sex with many of his friends. Sumaiya is jealous because he has sex with other sex workers in the brothel.

“Most of them have sad stories but they are very strong, at least outwardly. I admire that they manage their lives under these circumstances and do not give up. They are not just survivors or victims. They are enjoying and living their life in their own way,” Sandra Hoyn remarked.

12. Bonna, a sex worker.

Bonna, 27, is laughing with a condom in hand. She was raped by her stepfather when she was 7 years of age. She ran away from home at the age of 10 and a man picked her from the street and sold her into a brothel. She has two regular customers. On an average, she earns 1500 Taka ($19) per day.

When women have free time, they dance and laugh together. They joke with each other and also with their customers at times. The girls are lively and cheerful. Often, they forget their sadness. They still have dreams, Sandra Hoyn said.
13. Papia with two customers.

13. Papia with two customers. Papia is 18 years old and is with two customers lying on a bed in the above picture. Her parents died when she was young. Papia and her husband became heroin addicts. She was put in jail where she met a woman who brought her to the brothel.
Most women have dreams to earn enough money in the brothel and to buy their own house outside when they are old. They don’t want to be dependent on men. They want to earn enough money to give their children a good school education. They want them to have better future,” Sandra Hoyn said.

14. Priya, trying to beat a friend. 14. Priya, trying to beat a friend.”
Priya who is 19, is trying to beat a friend, but not seriously.

Many women have their boyfriends or regular customers who pay them. I know one woman who has turned down marriage proposal of her most faithful client because she thinks, he will not let her keep her money. She’d rather maintain her independence as a sex worker,” Sandra Hoyn said.
15. Used condoms lying outside Kandapara.

Condoms at Kandapara brothel

According to Sandra Hoyn, she met a woman in the brothel who worked in a garment factory. Her co-worker in the factory told her of a more lucrative job. “On her own wish, she started working in the brothel and now doesn’t want to leave because it is a good place to earn money,” Hoyn said.
16. Dipa, a sex worker.
Dipa, a sex worker.” /> Dipa, 26, is shown crying in the photograph. She is in the second month of pregnancy in Kandapara brothel.
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