Bangladeshi garment worker turns to sex work for paying the bills

  • December 25, 2023

The garment worker, a mother of two, waits for her kids to fall asleep before quietly getting out of the house. She goes to the market down by the Buriganga River in Keraniganj, and waits for men to approach her. “They know without you having to say anything,” she says. “No respectable woman stands around here at night.”

A garment worker by day, rising inflation and a cost of living crisis has forced her into sex work by night. Things were not always this bad for her; at the beginning she would skip a meal here and there and pack a little less into her kid’s lunchbox. Then her husband left her and she became the sole bread earner for her family.

Her son would get hungry and started to steal. Soon she fell behind on her rent payment and took out a loan, which she struggled to pay back. This past year, her situation has become gradually worse.

She works for a big plant that makes clothes for British stores like Next, Tesco, and Matalan. In the months before Christmas, they were busy sewing holiday sweaters with “Santa’s Little Helper” and her favorite character, the Grinch. She hasn’t seen the movie, but she thinks his green grin is funny.

She finds it less funny that she is still having trouble making ends meet even though she works 10-hour shifts seven days a week. She makes about £15, which is less than the price of one of the thousands of sweaters she helps make. Also, the new minimum wage was supposed to start in December, but it hasn’t been paid yet.

A man came up to her a few months ago and offered her 500 taka, which is twice as much as she usually gets for one customer. She says, “I agreed because I thought I could go home early.” Before she got in the car, she gave the cash to a close store owner to keep safe. But when they got to the man’s house, there were ten more people waiting for her. She says, “I said no right away, but they locked the door behind me.” “They made fun of me, and I started to cry.” The person who brought me there then told me to leave and give him his money back. But when I told him I didn’t have it, he began to strip me naked to look for it.

“When he couldn’t find anything, he hurt me badly by beating me.” He hit me in the face with a table, threw me outside, and told me I wasn’t useful. I was hurt and lying in the street.

She says with tears in her eyes, “I thought I would die that day.” “I kept thinking about what would happen to my kids if I died while that crazy thing kicked me.”