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The child brothels of Bangladesh (and an odd link with cattle and chemotherapy)

Hashi, a 17-year-old sex worker, embraces "husband" (known as a "Babu") inside her small room at the Kandapara brothel in Tangail, a northeastern city of Bangladesh.

Many young and inexperienced prostitutes have "lovers" or "husbands" who normally live outside the brothel occasionally taking money and sex from them in exchange for security in this male dominated society. She earns about 800-1000 taka daily ($9.75 - $12.19) servicing around 15-20 customers every day. Hashi is one of hundreds of mostly teenage sex workers living in a painful life of exploitation in Kandapara slum's brothel who take Oradexon, a steroid used by farmers to fatten their cattle, in order to gain weight and appear "healthier" and more attractive to clients. Picture taken March 4, 2012.

Here's a longer Reuters story about the plight of young prostitutes in Bangladesh, and the phenomenon of using this drug to enhance sex appeal.

The news item is a few weeks old, but I stumbled on it today while researching the origin and side effects of a steroid my oncologist is giving me during chemotherapy. Surprise: It's the same drug. I never knew breast cancer patients had so much in common with cattle and Bangladeshi child sex workers.

(REUTERS/Andrew Biraj)

SKS, world's largest microfinance service, drives debtors to suicide

The Associated Press has obtained portions of a suppressed independent investigation into the role that debt collectors working for microfinance giant SKS played in the suicides of desperately poor borrowers in the Indian province of Andhra Pradesh. SKS made global headlines when it received backing from a US venture capital firm, the Boston-based Sandstone Capital, and then had a highly successful IPO. The independent investigation, commissioned by SKS itself (though the company has disavowed it) documents a pattern of usurious practices by vicious debt-collectors working for the company that drove several borrowers to grisly suicide.

The interview videos were shown to the AP by Uma Maheshwari, who said she was present during one set of recordings and visited several of the families personally. She left SKS in July.

In one video, the daughter of borrower Dhake Lakshmi Rajyam cries, gasping as she talks to an investigator in Tadepalligudem, Andhra Pradesh.

Rajyam was unable to pay off $2,400 owed to eight different companies. Employees of microfinance companies, including SKS, urged other borrowers to seize the family's chairs, utensils and wardrobe and pawn them to make loan payments, her family told investigators. Unable to bear the insults and pressure of the crowd of borrowers who sat outside her home for hours to shame her, Rajyam drank pesticide on Sept. 16, 2010, and died, the family says.

"We have lost my mother," her daughter says. "Nobody will support us."

The investigator's conclusions lay the blame on SKS employees, saying they failed to comply with company policies "and even basic moral rights."

Vautrey said he sent the case studies to three top managers, including Rao. Emails obtained by AP indicate that summary reports were emailed to the managers.

Rao did not respond to multiple requests from AP seeking comment.

AP IMPACT: Lender's own probe links it to suicides (via Making Light)

InfoLadies of Bangladesh revolutionize rural life

Bangladesh's Infoladies ride from village to village on bicycles, toting netbooks and mobile phones, and set up infobooths where they use net-gathered info to teach hygiene, help with childbirth, assist with crop problems, and so on. There's an army of them.
"Ask me about the pest that's infecting your crop, common skin diseases, how to seek help if your husband beats you or even how to stop having children, and I may have a solution," says a confident Akhter.

"An InfoLady's netbook is loaded with content especially compiled and translated in local Bangla language," says Mohammed Forhad Uddin of D.Net, a not-for-profit research organisation that is pioneering access to livelihood information.

"It provides answers and solutions to some of the most common problems faced by people in villages."

In Bangladesh this means nearly three-quarters of the nearly 160 million that live in rural areas. From agriculture to health, sanitation and disaster management, the content follows simple text, pictures and engaging multimedia animations to include all users, many of whom are illiterate.

"I love the cartoon that tells about brushing teeth and hygiene," says 10-year-old Shamshul.

It took a just a brief meeting with an InfoLady for 60-year-old Nahar Hossain to finally identify the pest that destroyed his rice fields year after year. "She matched the picture of my crop with the one on her TV [netbook] and recommended a certain pesticide. I haven't had problems since," says Hossain, who had spent a lot of time and money seeking government help to no avail.

Two-wheel triumph (via Beyond the Beyond)