I am "Chowkri"- Inside Bangladesh's Biggest Brothel
About 800 women and girls live and work inside the bustling Joinal Bari brothel in Faridpur, central Bangladesh, comprised of four buildings situated on an important trading route on the banks of the Padma river. Many of chowkri (bonded sex workers) are underage. Some of the girls are runaways who leave home to escape a bad situation or marriage, and end up on the brothels when they have no where else to go. Many others have been kidnapped and are sold to a madame by a parent or relative. They must take on 5-10 clients per day, and most receive no pay because they must repay their debt to their madame… Here is their story.
Photos by Allison Joyce
A young chowkri (bonded sex worker) waits for customers on the 3rd floor of the Joinal Bari brothel in Faridpur, central Bangladesh.
An aging sex worker reclines in her bedroom in a brothel in Faridpur, central Bangladesh.
Joshna, a madame, and her girls wait for customers of the 3rd floor in the Boro Bari brothel in Faridpur, central Bangladesh. "I have been living in this brothel for 16 years. I spent four years as a sex worker and became a madame after that. How can I be happy in this hell? I will be happy when I leave." Joshna has plans to move to Dubai as soon as she can..
Piea waits outside her room while customers browse the halls of the 3rd floor in the Joinal Bari brothel in Faridpur, central Bangladesh.
Young chowkri (bonded sex workers) wait for customers in the stairwell of the 3rd floor in the Joinal Bari brothel in Faridpur, central Bangladesh.
Kajul is embraced by a customer in her bedroom of the 3rd floor of the Boro Bari brothel in Faridpur, central Bangladesh. About 800 women and girls live and work inside the bustling brothel, comprised of four buildings situated on an important trading route on the banks of the Padma river.
"I am 22 years old and I have been working in this brothel for two years. I was married for four years but my husband was crazy so I ran away. When I moved back in with my parents my uncle took me to Dhaka. He told me he was going to enroll me in a dance school but instead he sold me to a madame. I am not scared of anyone. Sometimes this place is okay, sometimes it's not, but anything is better than living with my husband. I don't talk with my parents anymore. I miss them, but what can I do? I feel like Alyea (my madame) is my own mother. I love her and this is like my family. I dream of being a madame someday." - Pakhi (meaning "Bird" in Bangla).
Pakhi gets ready with floormate, in her bedroom on the 3rd floor of the Joinal Bari brothel in Faridpur, central Bangladesh. Pakhi has worked in this brothel for two years and claims to be 22 years old.
"I grew up in Jessore and I have been working in the brothel for 5 years. I was stalked by a local boy in Jessore and when I told my family they blamed me for the harassment so I ran away. When I was on the streets I met a woman who brought me to the brothels here in Faridpur. I miss my father and I talk to him often. I tell him that I'm working in a garment factory in Dhaka and he always asks me to come back home." ( Ria, 22 years old) … Update: At the time of our visit Ria was excitedly planning to leave the brothels and move back home with her father to become a tailor. When we visited a few weeks later Joshna, her madame, had given her 20,000 taka, gold earrings, and sent her back to her family in Jessore.
Piea waits for customers in a brothel in Faridpur, central Bangladesh.
Allison Joyce is an award winning photojournalist currently working out of New York City. Throughout 2007 and 2008 she traveled the United States covering the presidential race, working as a campaign photographer for Hillary Clinton, and recently completed several projects throughout Bangladesh and India. She plans to visit Bangladesh yearly to continue covering the brothels and telling their stories.