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Sold by traffickers, trapped for years and raped many times a day … this is the life of tens of thousands of underage girls in Bangladesh. We hear their stories.
Sat 6 Jul A fter five years in the brothel, Labonni stopped dreaming of being rescued. Ever since she had been sold to a madam at 13 years old, customers had promised to help her escape. None had followed through. Here, between and 1, women and girls are working in the sex trade — many of them against their will. Girls as young as 12 sleep five to a room; their beds only cordoned off by torn cotton curtains. Music blares from heavyset sound systems and homemade liquor is poured from plastic bottles to numb the pain.
Men swagger shirtless down the alleys looking for girls. Like the majority of girls in Mymensingh, Labonni was trafficked into sex work. On the run at 13 years old, she left her six-month-old daughter behind to flee the abusive husband she had been made to marry the year before, in a ceremony that took place on the same day she started her period.
A woman saw her looking tearful in Dhaka railway station, and offered her food and a place to sleep for the night. Overnight, she became a chukri , or bonded sex worker — imprisoned within the brothel until she repaid hundreds of pounds in fabricated debts.
Then she confiscated my phone and locked me in my bedroom. A quick breakdown of the figures involved shows how girls like Labonni are a vital part of a hugely profitable business model for brothel owners in Bangladesh. For the past six years, since being trapped in the brothel, she has worked continually to pay off her phantom debt. Until last year everything Labonni earned went to her madam. Last year she was finally told she had paid off her debt, but she has yet to move on.