Within these walls: inside the legal brothels of Bangladesh

It’s the oldest profession in the world and Kandapara brothel in Tangail is the 
oldest in the country. Kenneth Dickerman on the daily lives of a sex workers in 
Bangladesh (Photographs by Sandra Hoyn)

  a.. Kenneth Dickerman  a.. Monday 31 October 2016 a.. 95 comments   

Kajol with a customer (All photographs by Sandra Hoyn) 

Bangladesh is one of the few Muslim countries in the world where prostitution 
is legal. The Kandapara brothel in the district of Tangail is the oldest and 
second-largest in the country – it has existed for some 200 years. It was 
demolished in 2014, but has been established again with the help of local NGOs. 
Many of the women were born there, grew up there and didn’t know where else to 
go when it disappeared.

Women waiting for customers in the Kandapara brothel 
Supporters of the brothel believe that sex work is also work – and that these 
women don’t want to do something else. The women themselves demonstrated for 
their rights as workers, and so at the end of 2014, the Bangladesh National 
Women Lawyers Association convinced the High Court that the eviction of the sex 
workers was an illegal act. The sex workers quickly returned to their homes.

Mim showers in the Kandapara brothel
Today, the area’s “brothel district” is surrounded by a wall. In the narrow 
streets, there are food stalls, tea shops and street vendors. The brothel is a 
place with its own rules and hierarchies of power which are completely 
different from mainstream society. For example, inside the brothels, the women 
are weak but also powerful. The most vulnerable stage is when a young sex 
worker enters the brothel – she is called a bonded girl. Bonded girls are 
usually 12 to 14 years old.

Dipa crying 

Papia with two customers on a bed 

People congregate inside the brothel

Priya teases a friend 

Twin babies of one of the workers in the Kandapara brothel 

A man tries to kiss Priya 

Asma with a customer. She was born here


Kajol with her 6-month-old baby Mehedi and a customer on her bed

Pakhi and Mim

The Kandapara brothel in Tangail is the oldest and second-largest one in 
Bangladesh. It has existed for 200 years 
These girls come from poor families and are often victims of trafficking. They 
have no freedom or rights. They belong to a madam, have debts and are not 
allowed to go outside or keep their money. When they have paid all their debts, 
which takes somewhere between one to five years, they become independent sex 
workers. Then, they can refuse customers and keep their own money. From the 
moment that a woman has paid her debts, she is free to leave the brothel. But 
these women are socially stigmatized outside their “homes” and thus often 
choose to stay and continue supporting their families with their earnings.

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