Bangladeshi sex workers take steroids to snag clients

Prostitution has been legal in Bangladesh since 2000. But forced prostitution has now become an issue of huge concern in this Muslim majority country.

Girls are forced into prostitution at very young ages. Many poor, rural families sell their daughters to traffickers for as little as 20,000 Taka (€200, $260 US). In some cases, girls are lured into work in brothels by young men offering to marry them

Sex workers often use a steroid called oradexon which makes them appear healthier and helps them to attract clients. These steroids are most often used by farmers to fatten livestock. But brothel owners give this drug to new sex workers to make them compliant to the demands of clients. Aid activists complain about the widespread use of this drug and say it could be lethal if used for a long time.

Steroids do not help under aged sex workers, especially those who are between 12 to 14 years old. According to Rokeya, a brothel owner in Bangladesh, injections are more effective for teen sex workers.

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According to the non-governmental organization ActionAid, oradexon is used by almost 90% of girls in brothels in Bangladesh. They claim that it is most widely used in the 15-35 age group. The NGO’s statistics suggest that some 200,000 girls are employed as sex workers in Bangladesh.

ActionAid started a campaign targeting young women working in brothels in Bangladesh in 2010 with the aim of raising their awareness about the dangers of the drug and to help the women who are addicted to it. According to Lutfun Nahar from ActionAid Bangladesh, “women rapidly gain weight after they start taking the drug. But they also get diabetes, high blood pressure, skin rashes and headaches.”

Local newspapers often publish news of HIV infection among sex workers in Bangladesh. But no real research has yet been done to determine how many sex workers in Bangladesh are infected with HIV. Sex workers say customers often refuse to use condoms, leaving them vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases.

Child prostitution is a widespread and serious problem in Bangladesh. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated in 2004 that 10,000 underage girls were being sexually exploited in the country’s sex industry. Other estimates put the figure as high as 29,000.

A group of Islamists attacked a brothel in southern Bangladesh last year, injuring at least 30 sex workers and rendering homeless nearly 500. Such attacks are frequent in this Muslim majority country.