Most New Zealanders have probably never heard of Daulatdia but for Eastbourne resident Diana Meads, it represents just how unfair life can be.
Sometimes described as the world‘s biggest brothel, it is a sprawling red light area in Bangladesh.
Meads visited as part of a Save the Children programme which supports schools, giving the children an alternative to following their mothers into sex work.
For Meads, the relationship fundraising manager at Save the Children NZ, the visit was hugely confronting.
70 years of Save the Children
From Greece to a Bangladesh brothel
Daughters of the brothel
“Open drains run down narrow alleys and crumbling lanes, often clogged with rubbish and human waste. The passageways are full of market stalls, people cooking, and sex workers advertising their services.
The only way the children living there can escape this despair is through education.”
Many of the women in the shacks the prostitutes work from have been trafficked or are there to pay off a debt – sometimes from a previous generation.
Seeing the women reinforced to Meads how contrasting her own life in Eastbourne was.
“It would certainly be the most challenging thing I have done in my life .
the 1500 women who work there live in a hell of violence, drug addiction, disease and despair.”
Save the Children opened the first and only school in Daulatdia in 1997. Children get health care, meals, an education and lots of love from trained teachers, some former pupils.
“It was so good to see the children laughing and smiling and learning. The teachers have excellent programmes and they obviously care about the kids.
Save the Children international programme director Andrew Johnston said the school had succeeded against huge odds. The locals were naturally suspicious but over time they had earned their respect.
Sex workers carried a stigma and even if they could escape, they could not return to their family or find other work.
Education was the key to giving the children a chance outside the brothel and the mothers were very supportive of the school.
The youngsters were surprisingly upbeat and, despite the harrowing nature of where they lived, were determined to succeed at school.
Although Bangladesh is a Muslim country, there are a number of large red-light areas such as Daulatdia.
It is situated on a main road and there are about 5000 residents, including prostitutes and people eking out a living selling food and other commodities.
Politics in Bangladesh is complex and despite a number of visits, Johnston was uncertain who ran the prostitution.
As Save the Children had shown a long-term commitment to the community, the authorities had gradually got on board.
“There was a lot of resentment, it has taken us quite a long time to get through that.”
Police would now intervene if there were reports of girls under 18 being trafficked.
As horrible as the brothel areas were, Johnston said closure would be pointless as it would just move to a new location.
“Our approach has been to say we do not want to shut the place down but we do want to help your kids.”
He wants to take the project, which currently looks after 700 kids and costs $487,000, to the next stage.
HIs “dream” is to raise $1 million over the next three years to extend the project into other red light areas in Bangladesh. The aim will remain the same, to give the children a chance of creating a life for themselves beyond the brothel.
Ultimately, he would like to see the schools become independent and not rely on SC funding.
World‘s biggest brothel
Daulatdia is a village in the Rajbari District of Bangladesh. According to Wikipedia, it is one of the largest brothels in the world.
The average age of women starting work is 14. Prostitutes are controlled by older women who purchase the girls for a few hundred dollars.
Estimates of the number of prostitutes vary from 1300 to 2000.
The madams give the girls drugs, designed to fatten cattle, to change their appearance.
Daulatdia is located on the side of the Padma river, the Bangladeshi part of the Ganges, where ferries carry trucks, buses and people cross the river. Lines of trucks queue to cross the river toward the capital Dhaka.
Truck drivers are the target clientele of the brothel.
There are 20 officially sanctioned brothels in Bangladesh.
New Zealand based documentary maker Giora Dan visited in 2018 to document the lives of the women. He spent two weeks in Daulatdia.
“Daulatdia represents both sides of humanity. It is a place where people are commodities and are traded for money with no self-determination; on the other hand, it has drawn to it very dedicated people that help with free health-care and education, trying to make the best of a place of very little hope.