Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, has more people than it has space to put them. 70% of Dhaka’s population does not own land of any kind, forcing people to live in extremely high density areas. Its millions upon millions struggle with over taxed infrastructures for electricity, water, and sewage. Water shortages, which can last for days, frequently erupt in protests. Congested traffic in the streets and fetid pollution in the Brahmaputra River have long been stock characteristics of Dhaka, and they are almost cliché. And yet hundreds of thousands of people arrive in this city each year hoping to find a better life.
Despite its challenges, Dhaka is leading the world in one very critical area: urban growth. Dhaka is a megacity swelling each year at a rate that nearly defies calculation.
Currently there are around 20 megacities worldwide, cities with populations over 10 million people. Dhaka is growing faster than any of them with an estimated 400,000 people who migrate from rural areas to the nation’s capital every single year.
For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in the country.1 Megacities like Dhaka are exploding at a rate that makes census data obsolete as quickly as computer software. The UN estimates that in less than 15 years, Dhaka will eclipse Mexico City, New York, and Shanghai in population.2
Most of the new arrivals are shuffled directly into the slums and shanty towns that house a majority of Dhaka’s inhabitants. Here, a job in a factory that pays less than $40 a month is a coveted position that offers a slim opportunity for a better life. It comes as no surprise that families often find no other recourse to starvation besides selling their daughters into brothels after they can struggle no more.
Trafficking in Bangladesh consists of many of the same tactics found elsewhere in the world and relies up on migration patterns of people stuck in poverty. Thousands travel across the border 3into nearby India for work, a pattern that provides a convenient cover for shuttling victims to sex markets throughout India.
NGO’s estimate that there are 70 or 80 women and children daily trafficked out of Bangladesh into other countries, often times for forced prostitution. The typical route runs from Dhaka, to Mumbai, to Karachi, and ends in Dubai, UAE.4
A newly minted trafficking law5 carries with it a provision for life imprisonment and even the death penalty, but as in all places in the world, laws are meaningless without a justice system that aggressively indicts, arrests, and convicts human traffickers.
Once in a Dhaka brothel, a girl faces an incredible pressure to maintain her sexual allure. If she cannot attract paying clients for sex, she is of little use to the madam and may get beaten or even killed. While this is hardly different than women in brothels all over the world, there is one distinctive of this pressure in Dhaka:
Girls must actually become fatter to become prettier.
In a country rife with poverty, extra fat is taken as a sign of a nourished and healthy body, a preference reflected in the demand for sex. Girls in the brothels of Dhaka are turning to steroids6, such as oradexon, to rapidly gain weight. Oradexon is sometimes used to fatten cows before slaughter, and it can have side effects such as addiction or even kidney failure. The manufacturer of the drug itself admits7 that while the drug is safe to take under the watch of a doctor, it should not be taken in extended doses. Madams and brothel owners even use the drug to make underage girls look older to evade police scrutiny.
Women in the Dhaka brothels find the lines of clients dwindling every year after they turn thirty. Their dreams of being married and starting a family are decimated– even women who are trafficking victims face a severe stigma outside the four walls of the brothel. And when they can no longer earn their keep, they are simply cast out and left to fend for themselves.
• Ask God to send revival to Dhaka
• Pray that God would raise up Christ-based NGO’s who would labor with brothel communities
• Pray for the establishing of righteous police forces and judicial systems that will enforce Bangladesh’s trafficking laws.
• Pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to break the depression and desperation on the lives of the women in Dhaka.