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Shetra’s story – the life of a sexually exploited child in Bangladesh

© UNICEF Bangladesh/2008/ Noorani
A brothel in South Bangladesh. The average age at which children first become involved in commercial sexual exploitation is 13, according to a recent study by UNICEF Bangladesh.

The World Congress III against the Sexual Exploitation of Children, set for 25-28 November 2008 in Brazil, aims to promote international cooperation for more effective action on sexual exploitation. Here is one in a series of related stories.

BARISAL, Bangladesh, 19 November 2008 – A recent survey by UNICEF Bangladesh found the average age at which children became involved in commercial sexual exploitation was 13.

Although sexual abuse affects all strata of society, it remains a taboo that is not talked about in Bangladesh. As a result, many children who are being exploited as part of the commercial sex industry do not tell anyone.

The non-governmental organization Association of Voluntary Action for Society (AVAS) runs a drop-in centre here that is supported by UNICEF’s HIV/AIDS programme. Through the drop-in centre, sex workers have access to condoms to prevent HIV infection, as well as other basic health services, counselling and HIV education.

Shetra's story

Recently, a sexually exploited 13-year-old named Shetra was found in a hotel by a peer educator from AVAS. Here is her story, as told to UNICEF’s Kathryn Seymour:

“My father died when I was six or seven, so my mother has always had to work to support us. When my mother goes to work, I look after my smallest sister, who is only 11 months old. My middle sister is eight.

“All four of us live in a rented house in Barisal, but the rent is very expensive. My mother often can’t earn enough as a maid, and things are very difficult. Sometimes, we can’t manage food or the rent for our house. Recently, I began to think that I really needed to earn some money to help us out, so I decided to go look for a job.

“For a short while, I got a job as a maid. My employer beat me and only gave me one meal a day, so I quit. Two months ago, I started as a sex worker.

“My mother doesn’t know where I go when I leave to meet men. I tell her that I am going to visit a friend. When I give her the money afterwards and she asks me where it came from, I tell her that I got a job on the roads chipping bricks. This is the story I tell everyone.

How it started

“I started as a sex worker because of one of our neighbours. He is close friends with my family, so I call him ‘uncle’, even though he is not my relative. One day, he called me and said that he had someone for me to meet at his house. When I got to his house, he introduced me to another man who he said I should also call ‘uncle’.

“We went to a hotel together and that was my first time. It hurt a lot. Since then, two or three days a week I go to the hotel with this uncle. One time, he took me to his home when no one else was there. I’ve been to other hotels and sometimes to houses when the wives are away.
“Normally, the oldest men come to me. I think that they are mostly over 40 years old. My neighbour usually calls me when there is a man for me. I don’t know if there are other girls that he calls, but there might be.

“I want to stop doing this, but I don’t know how because my mother needs the money. I don’t want to continue because then I know that I won’t have an education, but I need to help feed my family.”



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