The Longings of the Others

Bangladesh is one of the few predominantly Muslim countries in the world where prostitution inside registered brothels 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.

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.

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. 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.

Pakhi, 15 years, and Mim, 19 years. Both are sexworker in the Kandapara brothel in Tangail.
Women waiting for customers.
The Kandapara brothel in Tangail.
Used condoms outside the brothel.
Mim, 19 years, is having a shower in the brothel.
Dipa, 26 years, is crying. She is in the 2nd month pregnant from a customer.
The arm of a customer.
Bonna, 27, is laughing with a condom in the hand. When she was 7 years old she was raped by her stepfather. She run away from home with 10 years as a man picked her off the street and sold her into a brothel. She has two regularly customers. On average she earn 1500 Taka (19 $) per day.
Five days old twins lie on the bed. They have not yet a name. Jhinik, 20 years, a sexworker in the Kandapara brothel gave birth to them.
Rupa, 16, is dancing on the bed while a customer is filming her.
A customer in the Kandapara brothel in Tangail.
Al Amin and Ershad, 12 years, cotton candy seller in the Kandapara brothel in Tangail.
Bonna and the son of a sex worker hugging each other.
Roni and Saddam are dancing. Both are shop owners and sons of sexworkers.
Papia, 18, in the Kandapara brothel. Her parents died when she was a child, she was married young. Her husband and she took heroin, she has been in jail because of this. She says that the jail was the best place she has ever been, because nobody beats her there. In the jail she got to know a woman who brought her later to the brothel.
Papia, 18, with two customers.
Students and regularly customers in the brothel.
Bonna, 27, a sexworker in the Kandapara brothel in Tangail, is fighting with another woman.
Kajol with her 6 month old baby Mehedi and a customer on her bed. She thinks she is 17 years but does not know her exact age. She was married with 9 years. Her aunt sold her to the Kandapara brothel. Two weeks after the birth she was forced to have sex again with customers. Because of the baby her business is not so good.
Kajol with a customer.
Bethe, 8 years, is playing with Yusuf. He is the regular customer (boyfriend) of Bonna. Bethe was born in the Kandapara brothel. She goes to school and works not now as a sex worker. Her mother wants her to start working as sex worker when she is 14 years.
A customer try to kiss Priya, 19, on the cheek. Since she is 17 she is working as a sexworker in the Kandapara brothel in Tangail.
Bonna, 27, other sex workers and a shop owner are laughing.
Customers inside the Kandapara brothel in Tangail.
Asma, 14 years, with a customer. She was born int the Kandapara brothel in Tangail.
Asma has stopped attending school because the students harass her because her mother work as sexworker in the brothel. She started working as a sex worker when she was 14 years old. Before she danced in front of customers.
Priya, 19, is teasing a friend and try to beat him. She is working as a sex worker since she is 17.
Priya and Kajol are looking for music in Priya's room.
Sumaiya, 17, with her boyfriend and regular customer Titu, 23, in the Kandapara brothel in Tangail. He is from Dhaka and visits ger every month one week. They are often fighting, because Titu wants to marry her, but she doesn't want. She is afraid that after marriage he will take away all her money. He is jealous, because she has sex with many of his friends. Sumaiya is jealous because he has sex with other sexworkers in the brothel.
Sumaiya in front of her room.
Sumaiya with her boyfriend and regular customer Titu.
Titu grabs Sumaiya by her arm.
Sumaiya was beaten by Titu.
Pakhi, 15 years, with a customer in her room in the Kandapara brothel in Tangail. He came in a group of five men who all wanted to have sex with her one after another. These men left the room because they were too drunk. The man in the picture also left the room after this photo. The main reason was because Pakhi didn´t like him. But also because I was in the room.
Meghla, 23, with a customer in the Kandapara brothel in Tangail. She started working for a garment factory when she was 12 years old. There that she met a man who promised her a better job with more money and he sold her into a brothel.