Hazera Begum still remembers how she had run away from her family in the mid-1970s as an eight-year old.
In an attempt to escape the torment of her stepmother, she initially began her homeless life as a street urchin, collecting garbage, selling them and even begging for a living, reports UNB.After facing molestation, she was taken by the police to Kashimpur Vagrant Home, from where she was later taken to a welfare officer’s home to work as a household help.
She was molested there as well, forcing her to escape and become a street urchin again. After becoming a victim of gang rape while visiting Mirpur zoo, she was finally lured by a man, offering a job, and being sold off to Sadarghat’s Kundopatti brothel to work as a prostitute.
Rawshan Ara, 27, another floating sex worker from Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban area, has a similar troubled childhood and went through similar ordeals before turning to prostitution.
They are two of millions of girls who are forced into the sex trade in Bangladesh, thanks to fall of social values among the lower sphere of society.
According to a 2015 report by Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), there were 1.5 million street children in Bangladesh, out of which one-fourth were young girls.
Many of them turn to prostitution as other means of earning such as selling flowers, begging, garbage collecting and such do not bring enough income for them.Most of them are deprived of their basic needs such as secure living place, proper food, healthcare, education, sanitation facilities and entertainment.
A research conducted by Unnayan Onneshan in 2012 showed that 70 percent street girls were sexually abused and 19 percent began prostitution from as early as the age of 11.
A 2016 Sex Workers Network report states that there are over 1.02 million sex workers, out of which 29,000 are underage ones.
They are mainly reported to work in various areas in the city such as Dhaka University campus, Karwan Bazar, Chandrima Uddyan, High Court Mazar, Sayedabad Bus Terminal, Sadarghat and Kamalapur Railway Station.
Both Unnayan Onneshan and Unicef reported in 2012 that the major reasons for young girls turning to prostitution are family detachment, poverty, physical and sexual exploitation and more.
Sahanaz Begum, former president of Durjoy, an NGO for sex workers, said when she was an activist, she found that many street girls were duped by their family members or lovers and sold into whore houses, and it is still the case.
“Many men used to sell their wives for Tk 20,000-50,000,” she added.
Though trafficking girls and women and pushing them into prostitution are crimes according to the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act 2012, little prosecutions see the light of such cases.
According to statistics provided by Bangladesh Police Headquarters, some 3,500 cases were filed across the country since formulation of the act.
There are several government and non-government safe homes and dropping centers, which provide day or night, or both, shelters for vulnerable street girls, but due to low capacity, many girls cannot avail themselves of the facilities.
Wahida Banu, executive director of Aparajeyo Bangladesh, one of the NGOs which run at least 200 dropping centers, children shelters and emergency homes for street children across the country, told UNB that if a social movement can be created for a better future for these girls, then their misfortune can be averted.
She said the NGOs run by project-basis work of few years, but individual projects cannot bring any significant change in their lives.
Rather a master plan, periodical monitoring and follow-up done by government and nongovernment organisations can help them out.
The Social Welfare Ministry has been working for the street girls while the Women and Children Affairs Ministry started some programmes for them in 2013.
Social Welfare Minister Rashed Khan Menon told UNB that his ministry has some safe homes and shelters for the street children and they take the children’s issue under consideration when they get involved in any anti-social or criminal activities.
He said the Women and Children Affairs started rehabilitation activities for the girls along with his ministry, but still the government facilities are not enough.
The minister added that the government is very sincere to solve the problem and will gradually expand the area of the existing programmes for ensuring better lives for these street girls.