Bangla ‘teen’ brothels hold dark steroid secret

TANGAIL (Bangladesh), Mar 19, 2012, Reuters
Their faces painted heavy with make-up, teenage girls in short, tight blouses and long petticoats loiter in squalid alleys, laughing and gesturing to potential clients who roam Tangail town’s infamous red light area in the early evening.
There is no shortage of men looking for “company” in Kandapara slum, a labyrinth of tiny lanes – lined cheek-by-jowl with corrugated iron shacks – a few hours drive northeast of Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka. But with rates as low as 50 taka (30 Indian rupees), the need to attract as many customers as possible is desperate — prompting a rising, yet dangerous, trend of steroid abuse among adolescent sex workers to “enhance” their appearance.“There is a huge difference between my appearance now and the malnourished look of my childhood,” says Hashi, 17, who was lured into the sex trade by a trafficker when she was 10 and sold to Kandapara’s brothel, where she began taking steroids.

“I am healthier than before and fit to serve a lot of customers in a day. Sometimes up to 15,” she says, placing a large black bindi, or dot used by Hindu women, between her perfectly shaped eyebrows. She sits in her tiny room with a bed, a cooking stove and posters of Bollywood stars taped across the wall. Hashi is one of around 900 sex workers — some as young as 12 — living a painful life of exploitation in Kandapara, compelled to take the steroid, Oradexon, which brings more income but leaves dangerous side effects.

Cow fattening drug

Also known as Dexamethasone, Oradexon treats inflammation and allergies in humans and is used by farmers to fatten livestock. Charities say the over-the-counter drug is taken by 90 per cent of sex workers in Kandapara and the other 14 legalised brothels across the impoverished nation.

The girls are first forced to take it by their madams, or “sardarnis”, who run the brothels.  It increases their appetite, making them gain weight rapidly and giving the appearance that these poorly nourished teens are in fact healthy and older — attracting clients who prefer girls with “curves”. It also helps sardarnis keep the police away. The legal age for sex work in Bangladesh is 18. “Customers always look for healthy girls. I take Oradexon. If I don’t get any customers one day, I cannot eat in the next day,” says Hashi. The steroid can cause diabetes, high blood pressure, skin rashes and is highly addictive, according to social activists. It also weakens the immune system. There have been reports of young sex workers dying from over-use of the drug.

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