According to Anti-Slavery International, bonded labour – or debt bondage – may be the least known form of slavery, yet it is the most widely used method of enslaving people. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that there are about 250 million economically active children (individuals below 18 years old) worldwide. 61% of these workers – roughly 153 million – are in Asia. Around half of the economically active children are working full time and 20-30% about 30 to 46 million – are in exploitative conditions or worse forms of child labour.
South East Asia is by far the region where slavery is most thriving and culturally complex.
In rural Bangladesh, tens of thousands of people are working as bonded labourers. Sometimes entire families are bonded to their employers, struggling to pay back loans. These families include children: thousands of Bangladeshi children are being forced into bonded labour everyday and it all seems to go unnoticed.
As part of the Modern-Day Forms of Slavery group project, a photojournalistic investigation by NOOR, Pep Bonet focuses on the issue of child labour and exploitation in Bangladesh where there are nearly 5 million children between the age of 5 – 15 working in hazardous conditions in factories, garages and homes, in railway stations and markets, in small foundries — many for little or no pay at all.
Many boys and girls who work do not have access to education and become trapped in low-skilled, low-pay work that further binds them into the cycle of poverty.
Although the law prohibits child labour, these practices happen widely and consistently. Enforcement of existing laws is inadequate.
Child labour is technically illegal but extremely widespread. Driven by poverty, it is often parents who are forced to push their children into work at an early age.
Children need to go to school, if they don’t, they become the main engine to which poverty is transmitted from one generation to another.
Sexual exploitation and trafficking of children is a problem affecting their psychosocial stigma, their health as well as their social recognition in the community. The victims are affected by poverty, low socio-economic status and cultural practices, which, in the northern part of Bangladesh, contribute to the vulnerable being further exploited by others for profit and forced labour.
The sex market is expanding at an unprecedented pace and touching every strata of society. Over the last decade thousands of Bangladeshi girls were lured under false circumstances and sold into the sex industries in different countries including Bangladesh.
Tangail brothel is one of the biggest brothels in Bangladesh; it was established around 1850, locally known as Kandapara. Kandapara brothel, one of the 14 official brothels in Bangladesh, is in the centre of Tangail district, next to the police station. Inside there are 800 rooms and around 900 commercial sex workers that work and live there, many of them are imprisoned against their own will. The sex workers have to pay between 200/250 Taka each night for the rental of the room, and fights for clients are common amongst them as there are not always enough clients and the women are under pressure to pay the rental fee. The living conditions are poor, and there is no access to toilets and water. This creates a health risk as garbage and used condoms are thrown into the streets.
Sometimes the girls are forced to take drugs like Oradexon (a steroid used by farmers to fatten the cows). It has become a common commercially sold drug, easily available in the shops in Tangail. It actually increases their appetite, making them gain weight rapidly, so they look healthy for their customers. The drug’s side effects include headaches, chest pains, skin rashes, gastric problems, swelling of the body, stomachaches, high blood sugar and pressure.
This feature is part of the group project Modern Day Slavery by NOOR, which is supported by Lexis Nexis International.