Dhaka/ UNI: Sex workers of Daulatdai, one of the world’s largest sex working point, on Wednesday, sought emergency funds from the Bangladesh government citing ban on their profession to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
More than 1,500 sex workers are based at the Daulatdia brothel in Bangladesh, about 100 km (60 miles) west of Dhaka, which is one of about 12 officially sanctioned brothels in the South Asian country, and receives an estimated 5,000 customers every day.
The Bangladesh government on Friday announced the closure of the brothel - a series of shacks spread over a maze of alleyways - until at least April 5 but promised to give all of the sex workers a package of 30 kgs of rice, $25, and a fridge on rent.
Government official Rubayet Hayat, executive officer of the Goalanda thana, where the brothel is located, said the aid was expected to arrive late this week.
But women working at Daulatdia appealed for immediate help, saying they are cash strapped with no money to pay for food for themselves or their children due to the sudden closure of the brothel.
''Had we known it, we could have tried to save as much as possible. Now many of us have to take loans to not to stay hungry,'' said Kalpona, a 30-year-old sex worker, who has been living in the brothel for nearly two decades.
''Right now, we need the government aid as soon as possible'', she added, declining to give her full name for fear of reprisals.
Sex work is legal in Bangladesh although it is considered immoral by many in the Muslim-majority nation of about 160 million people, which has so far reported three deaths from COVID-19 with at least 33 other confirmed cases.
Daulatdia has been running for more than a century, set up until British colonial rule, although it moved to its current location near a ferry station in 1988 after fire destroyed the old premises. Charities say many sex workers are underage.
Ataur Rahman Manju, coordinator of the rights group Mukti Mahila Samity that supports sex workers, said most sex workers live hand-to-mouth existences, with only about one in nine having the ability to save up and feed themselves.
On an average workers earn between $12 to $24 a day, according to Manju.
The workers in high demand, about 100 or 200 of them, can probably survive for a month like this, but for the rest of the 1,500 the situation is really difficult. They immediately need food," Manju told this correspondent over phone.
Lily, 35, a sex worker, said she had not been able to send money to her eight-year-old son who lives with a family outside the brothel and she feared he was not being fed properly.
While Bangladesh government aid was promised, Kalpona was unsure it was going to help them in the long term. Even if restrictions are lifted next month, I don't think people will come to the brothel for a long time because of the disease, she said.