March 15, 2000 06:02am
Bangladesh Rules for Prostitutes
by: Farid Hossain
(DHAKA, Bangladesh) -- The eviction of 3,400 prostitutes from the country's largest brothel was illegal because it violated women's right to work, a court has ruled.
Bangladesh's High Court said Tuesday that the prostitutes should petition lower courts to obtain the right to return to their brothel. Justices Fazlul Karim and Abdul Wahab Miah also ordered police to free 116 prostitutes who had been detained in Dhaka, the capital, since a police raid on the brothel in July.
``Even though prostitution is not socially recognized, there is no law in Bangladesh to prevent anyone from it,'' the judges said in ruling on a lawsuit filed by human rights groups and 59 women. Since prostitutes vote and pay taxes, they ``are in a legal profession,'' the judges said.
Women's and human rights groups petitioned the court after police detained 267 prostitutes in the brothel raid.
``This is a milestone verdict that will go a long way in establishing the rights of the country's sex workers,'' said the plaintiffs' lawyer, Sigma Huda.
Police and conservative Islamic groups have raided brothels and driven out the women on several occasions in the past. In this case, the brothel outside Dhaka was pulled down following street protests by an area legislator.
The women were taken to a state-run home for vagrants, but after noisy protests, authorities handed 151 of them over to their families. Most of the freed women went back to prostitution, newspaper reports said.
Brothels, usually rows of small huts, operate in most of Bangladesh's 64 cities and towns. The country has nearly 170,000 prostitutes, according to a report published this week by a private think tank, Research Evaluation Associates for Development.
Abandoned by their husbands, many poor rural women travel to cities in search of jobs and end up as prostitutes, the report said. U.N. officials estimate there are at least 10,000 child prostitutes in Bangladesh.