g.m.b. akash – The Bitterest Pill – A new danger for child sex workers in Bangladesh

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G.M.B. Akash

The Bitterest Pill – A new danger for child sex workers in Bangladesh

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800 women and girls live and work inside the fortress-like brothel in Faridpur, central Bangladesh. Many of them are underage, and most receive no pay because they are chhukri – bonded workers. That girl as young as 12 should be condemned to a life of sex slavery is bad enough, but they also face a new horror, one that could snuff out any chance of a future they might have had.

The horror is a steroid called Oradexon, a drug identical to one used to fatten cattle for market. The girls are given Oradexon by their madams in order to make them look older and more attractive to prospective clients. One of its side effects is water retention, oedema, which can result in a ‘plump’ look that is considered attractive by some Bangladeshi men.

The drug is highly addictive and has severe long-term health implications, impairing the kidneys, increasing blood pressure and interfering with normal hormone production.

Nodi 15, is one of many girls who use the drug. She says she doesn’t have another name – ‘I’m just Nodi – it means River’ – and she has been in the brothel for two years. Many of the girls here have been sold by their stepmother or even their own mothers – and some are second-generation sex workers, born to a prostitute and an unknown client. ‘I started taking the cow drug a year ago, and I take two tablets a day,’ Nodi says. She thinks it makes her look healthier. ‘The customers like us to look healthy. I got a little plumper when I started taking the drug.’ The existence she describes is a miserable one. ‘How can I be happy here? God knows – there is no happiness here,’ she says.

In a conservative country prostitution is will of fate. No one knows the Story of those faceless girls who may be sold by their boyfriend, husband or parents. No basic right, having no admiration for own self & torture of uncertainty made them unvoiced. Whenever I met those young girls I tried to be one of them. They have no dreams; they only live in reality which is killing them ever.

 

Bio

My journey to the world of photography began long ago. For years I have been travelling widely, covering various social issues faced by the lesser known people, particularly in my country Bangladesh.

My work has been featured in many major international publications including: National Geographic, Vogue, Time, Sunday Times, Newsweek, Geo, Stern, Der Spiegel, The Fader, Brand Ein, The Guardian, Marie Claire, Colors, The Economist, The New Internationalist, Kontinente, Amnesty Journal, Courier International, PDN, Die Zeit, Days Japan, Hello, and Sunday Telegraph of London.

In 2002 I became the first Bangladeshi to be selected for the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass in the Netherlands. In 2004 I have received the Young Reporters Award from the Scope Photo Festival in Paris, again being the first Bangladeshi to receive the honor. In 2006 I was awarded World Press Photo award and released my first book First Light.

 

Related links

G.M.B. Akash

A photojournalist’s blog

77 Responses to “g.m.b. akash – The Bitterest Pill – A new danger for child sex workers in Bangladesh”


  • Thanks GMB, thanks to Facebook, I am familiar with your workd and advocacies for the trampled down. child sex trafficking is both a simple subject (we want evryone to stop what they’re doing and say NO!) and a complex one because it involves so much more than just the crime itself. The condition of women, of children, economiv woes, the ingrained culture of acceptance, our own inability, though it revolts millions of us, to have governing and non-governing bodies (administartions, UN, UNESCO, advocacy NGOs. etc….) put a stop to it.

    I have a little criticism about the pictures which I find too much portraiture and not enough contextual enough. Not asking of course to see a child being raped, but a sense of less being in front of a camera.

    Thanks all the same, happy to see you featured here, and so sad about these children.

  • Photographers must be running into each other to photograph there are so many photos of them. I don’t think this essay adds anything new to what seems to have become a genre unto itself.

  • This is the essay what burn is for.

  • Jim,

    That seems a bit harsh. In today’s world where Kim Kardashian is in the news every other day, and our president has a large press corps following him on his every misadventure, we can afford to see more stories like this, even if similar work has been done before.

    This essay does however leave me with a lot of questions. How is the debt bondage enforced? Do economic conditions contribute to keeping the girls there? Is law enforcement lacking? Does corruption play a part? How can this cycle be broken? Is there a way out?

    Like Herve, I would have liked to see some coverage beyond the many portraits – even though there are some very strong images here. Frame #20 starts leading us towards a bigger, more meaningful story, but that is unfortunately also where the essay ends….

  • Mr. Akash,

    I am a long-time admirer of your very important work. Happy to see you featured here.

  • The aesthetics of photography (colour, composition,textures etc) overrun any message that is being conveyed.

  • So much for the lightness and joy of RIO.

    Imants, do you mean that photography cannot convey any message outside of the aesthetic attributes of a particular image, and thus photography is useless to impart information?

  • This essay leaves me feeling
    empty…
    and
    powerless……
    I suppose its how the girls feel……
    ***

  • These photographs go into risky territory — they are beautiful images at that — yet IMO they don’t romanticize tragedy or fall into voyeurism. Frankly, I’m glad they are portraits. I don’t want or need to see men getting all over these girls to understand what is happening. I see their humanity and the horror of what is happening to them on their faces, in their plump faces and the bars that hold them inside.

    The only downside, if you can call it that, is how my thoughts turn so violent when I think of what I’d like to do to the people who put them there and create a market for their services. I live in a place where this is going on all around, probably within walking distance of my home (minus the drug). How can human beings tolerate such things and look the other way?

    Well done, and I hope your images do prompt people to act (or NOT act) and make a difference.

  • Hi G.M.B, thanks for submitting this for us to see.

    To be honest I was blown away by this work… it’s always a pleasure to see someone with technical skill and a really solid personal style working on projects ‘in their own back yard’.

    Keep up the good work amigo.

    (I hope you’re still shooting this because you’ve obviously nailed the access.)

    B

  • ANDY GRAY:
    “I live in a place where this is going on all around……….How can human beings tolerate such things and look the other way?”
    ——————

    Exactly my point!

    Nobody looks the other way (now with the unfiltered release of information on the net and likewise medias, no one can say “we did not know”), but we all live, go to, or know places where this is going on all around and subsequently, it seems both revolting and tolerable.

    BTW, I think what is shamefully missing in OWS (OCCUPY) is a connectedness and a vow of solidarity for/with the billion(s) who are enslaved or making less than 2$ a month, and who are in my eyes (with the ones making 5$ a day), the real 99% of this world.

  • This one broke my heart.

    Jim, you are completely wrong.

    You too, Imantz.

    The message is delivered – and powerfully so.

  • dq I wrote about this particular work not about what photography does. This series of images is very much in a almost “Neo Romantic” mode with undertones of an opposition to the so called ugly modern world visually.
    Akash’s Born to work series is similar but has that extra element of dramatic romantic style of lighting. The sub continent is a very visually rich region and the photographed image brings out these aspects and it is hard to convey the real underlying drama of everyday life. One just has to see the difference between poverty of the west and these regions, here they may be poor financially. but they do not have the social poverty of the west.
    Without the statement about steroid called Oradexon the images are just about surviving in a marginal situation and via a series of good colour photography. I really don’t need photographs to tell me that this is a less than ideal situation these girls find themselves in.
    Here I never stated that it is wrong to photograph in this manner but the visuals seem to have a greater impact than the message if one doesn’t read the captions. On Akash’s site he relies on the preamble to convey his message as the photographs are open to a wide raging interpretations that don’t necessary bring his point across.
    Frostfrog the world is full of shitty situations and no amount of photography, wars, legislation is going to alter that ………….. I have no wish to emotionally blackmail myself over a bunch of photographs.I have better things to do than that

  • ps dq I would answer your question in full but I have couple of days driving from early Xmas day on so packing is a priority.

  • GMB – Your work in the Paris Review – on the rooftops of trains – blew my mind and I remember showing those photos to friends and family members and just soaking up their exhilarated reactions.

    Your work here is equally astounding. It’s incredible what you do for photography. Thank you and please keep up the good work.

  • G.M.B., Congratulations for being published here.

    I’m blown away by your raw skill and talent, both here and on your site.

    Jim, I understand part what you’re saying, prostitues are an enduring theme in photography, especially third world prostitutes. This essay so much invites comparison with Mary Ellen Mark’s very beautiful, heart-breaking classic “Falkland Road” one of my favourite books. However to suggest that this essay “does not add anything new” is a very cynical view. Like all the enduring themes, both positive and negative, each point of view, each up-date, is valid. Child prostitution did not end because of Mary Ellen Marks efforts, nor will it end with these amazing photographs.

    However, each time this issue is raised, a few more people will become aware. Many years ago, I remmember showing Falkland Road to the upper class Mubai raised Indian wife of a friend. She was shocked, and was in dis-belief that this existed. One photo essay will not change the world. All the more reason to continue to expose this horror. Shifts take place slowly. This essay here on burn is playing it’s part.

    Jim, you as a mainstream down home newspaper editor, and myself, as a family portrait photographer, portray a Polly-Anna world. This is not a bad thing, I believe it is necessary to preserve our sanity and a vision of what we wish the world were like. On the other hand, every time issues such as this essay are exposed, one hopes for a slight elevation of global awareness, and the advance of humanity.

    Herve, portraits, looking into a person’s eyes, tells so much more than any “context” picture in my opinion. These portraits (like #7) absolutely break my heart.

    G.M.B., amazing work.

  • Imants – Nobody is in control of your emotions, nor can anyone emotionally blackmail you without your consent. Feelings of guilt come from within, or by permission from without, so no worries — we can always look away. Personally, when I look at these photographs, I am drawn more to the substance than to the surface image, despite their beauty or romantic elements. But I don’t see why you object to the necessity of reading either the introduction or the captions. I don’t want the text to speak MORE than the images (a problem when a revealing essay is followed by detached images that don’t add up). But in this case, the images add so much to the essay, and vice versa, and that’s how it should be.

  • I could list many stunning photos in this series. I was “stopped in my tracks” by #5. #2, #3, and #11 drove home that these are real girls. The last photo took me back — it was so different — but I took that as a wake up call from any romantic fall into the colors and light.

  • I never referred to anyone controlling my emotions ……. I stated “I have no wish to emotionally blackmail myself over a bunch of photographs”
    I have no guilt about what happens it is a reality and one I saw quite often when I lived in those regions. Though not ideal situation but some feel it is a necessity, go out and ask them why they feel a need to act and control. I have and I accept their reasoning without agreeing to it The world is not about utopia nor does evolution care about that.
    I don’t object to reading text nor did I write that I did………I stated that the photography here needs the text these to convey what it is about.
    Newsprint does a better job of these aspects of life this essay is about photography and the audience is like minded, they like photography. Most of the world spends its time living.

  • I stated that the photography here needs the text to convey what it is about.

    catcha later

  • Imants – My error for misreading your text. We agree the world is full of shitty situations. I don’t understand why photography and text should be separated, except as a matter of form, depending on the journalist or artist. You can tell stories using ONLY images or ONLY words. I can’t imagine you’d want to make a doctrine out of that. Yet relegating text to “newsprint” (a dying form) seems to say a lot.

  • Imantz – You have explained well the reasoning behind your earlier statement. I may not fully agree, but it makes sense and does not dismiss the work of the photographer in the way that I first interpreted your earlier words too.

    Gordon, you have given Jim a good defense, but, still, I think he is wrong. As to the “genre” part – what area of photography is there that could not be considered part of genre? What photographers work, no matter how fresh, how compelling, how original, could not be said to none-the-less fit into a genre?

  • Imants – zorry about the “z.”

  • IMANTS

    of course text is necessary here..again, just as you use graphics and music in addition to the photo image to get across your whole sensibility….if text was not here, then i could see your point, but text is here!!

    yet it seems you are also suggesting that the finer points of photography are useless and that no matter how “good” the photographer or how fine the image, it only gets in the way of the message….what message exactly do you mean? on the surface, with what few words you wrote, it seems a bit of convoluted philosophy to be honest..seems more designed as a word game/mind game than actual photo critique……what exactly would you suggest is the best way to show this story?

    i know what you do not like Imants…but what do you like?

    what medium? what method? what would convey best? i am being serious here…you often make good points..and again, you might really have a good point here, but i will be damned if i can figure out what it is…

    i will now assume my own comprehensive weakness and will await your words..

    by the way, i cannot find you on skype…need to lock down what you will do in Sydney for HeadOn…they are aware you will do something…

    best of Holidays to you and to Linda

    cheers, david

  • It doesn’t have to be separated sometimes it doesn’t gel here I feel the images rely on the text. I never stated that that was the case in all work that is created.

    As for newsprint it is just a better medium for getting the message across to the traffickers as the community they live with are more likely to read a newspaper than see images on a site blog etc. The immediate community are the one who are most likely to implement change not some Imants writing about the images

  • GORDON…JIM

    i do know what Jim is saying and i know Gordon what you are saying too….it is not an either/or situation….photographers will trample over each other on certain subjects..i am sure Jim is correct that there might be more photographers running to do this story than we know what to do with…and after this, even more….however, THIS particular set of photographs and the particular commitment by Akash who is part of the culture, i think deserves special attention…which is why it is here….if somebody told me they had a prostitute story from Bangladesh my eyes would probably immediately roll as per Jim’s suggestion…yet, like the story we ran a few weeks ago on the Jo’burg slum, one had always better take a look…

    cheers, david

  • IMANTS

    ok, yes, THAT i understand..for sure the power of any journalism to change anything is going to be local….appearing here on BURN will not change anything….probably nothing is going to change anything…i think the power of photography to actually “change” social wrongs is diffused by various realities…and yet, without education and awareness in general for our masses, we would only have a diet of entertainment…and for sure no change comes that way…i suppose it is just one of those things in life where an artist or writer or musician just needs to do what they do…they might feel or see a social wrong as Akash does here and just feel the need to do something…anything….it seems Akash has put talents to good use…it will be others and time, lots of time, that will decide the outcome…

  • I think this is valuable work, well-executed. I share some of imants’ concerns about the vibrancy of the color. I’m sure it doesn’t look like that in real life, at least not for more than a fleeting moment or two during the “golden” hours. Due to colorful aesthetic of that part of the world and the natural beauty of many of the subjects, much about the scenes are beautiful without enhancement Is it right to further idealize those scenes? To make them more beautiful than they already are?

    I think the world would be a better place if journalists really were tripping over each other to expose those types of horrors. Problem is that in the real world journalists are tripping over each other to get to Lady Gaga, the white kid trapped in a well or the politicians involved in daily horse races.

    So kudos to all who are trying to make a difference by telling an honest story. Imants is wrong to say that no amount of photographs, legislation, etc. can change a society for the better. Given the number of societies that have changed for the better through free press and rule of law, to claim that certain others are incapable progress smacks of a certain type of colonial ugliness.

    And to Herve’s point, I don’t see why those self enslaved Asian child prostitutes are whining when the enslaved child prostitutes in Congo have it so much worse. Everyone should just SFTU until the whole world is as unjust as rest. When it sucks as much as possible for everyone, then we’ll all have the right to complain. Until then, we should just ignore what’s going on locally — you know, the things we might actually be able to do something about — and send cosmic waves of karmic solidarity to the most downtrodden who toil as far away from our own backyards as possible.

    Anyway, nice work G.M.B.

  • “however, THIS particular set of photographs and the particular commitment by Akash who is part of the culture, i think deserves special attention…” ~ DAH

    A story told from within, from somebody who lives there, knows the culture, is in his own backyard.. not traveling far looking for mysery in a place away from home…

    I really do not need to see more than this to feel the sadness and despair.. and I remain the idea that if there were no men wanting to have sex with children, there would be no such problem as the one told in the essay..

  • My first viewing of these images left me cold I was hurrying off to work and I didn’t appreciate the power and the awful situation these kids live and “work” in. However this morning as I sat in the sun with my kids looking at this essay something clicked in me and my feelings towards this essay altered and it managed to it me straight in the gut. I don’t think the look of the images help the work at all in fact as far as I’m concerned they are a hindrance, distracts from a very powerful piece of work and the message the photographer is trying to bring across.
    Imants is probably bloody right, his comments make bloody common sense but I have to admit I much prefer MW’s point of view…it’s a glimpse steering straight to the heart of hope and that is never a bad thing.

  • This is really a revelation of another life in our society…….This is real & harsh life of the brothels in third world….The photographs are powerful and describes the raw life…..keep going.
    Partha

  • Imants is wrong to say that no amount of photographs, legislation, etc. can change a society for the better

    Imants never stated the above nor stated anything about better…..he stated “the world is full of shitty situations and no amount of photography, wars, legislation is going to alter that” ………… and shitty situations will occur again and again.

  • So don’t make up shot to suit your argument mw…….

  • David the essays here and on many sites are as follows ,,, image > mouse over > up pops some text > image > mouse over > up pops some text etc it is dislocated there is no flow. One reads the small text at the bottom and then the process is
    1) does that appear in the image
    2) or is it just saying/ repeating the same thing as what is in the image

    The photographers statement is separate from the images and more often doesn’t correlate with what is produced.
    I don’t think I stated anywhere that I didn’t like the essay is the way it is presented that irks me others love it………..

  • David my skype is imantskrumins email me when you have time as I am on the road now for 3 days.

  • Eva – I do not think that it is possible for a man to either want to have sex with a child or to have sex with a child. A man might want to rape a child, and a man might actually rape a child, but that is not having sex. These places should not be called brothels or houses of prostitution, but rather houses of child rape.

    Again, I think that message is powerfully conveyed in this set of photographs.

  • I understand Imants’s frustration with the presentation; web galleries like this can give a very disjointed image-text experience. I also wish the captions from image to image were less repetitive, as I found it detracts from the effectiveness of the message. The difficulty reminds me of some of Jim Goldberg’s work, combining text and image in one piece of work.

  • Well, I don’t think it was such a bad paraphrase, but fine, sorry to have misrepresented your words, but still, the important part is that it is possible for any particular shitty situation to improve and shining a light on it is most often the first step, so work like this is valuable and the world would be a better place if there were a helluva lot more of it. I just don’t get the negative comments about the fact that this type of work is being done. How it’s being done is of course fair game.

    Regarding the captions, I understand that the repetitiveness is for SEO purposes, but stuff like that, which we’ve seen in many essays, still bothers me. It strikes me as a lack of respect for the venue.

  • Your photographs have pierced my heart with such a high intensity. You are a visionary, an absolute pride of Bangladesh. In each photo there is a pulse, the humanness in the human — a total truth is depicted in the images you have conveyed with vividness. Keep inspiring and making a difference by ‘shooting’ away on camera! I become one of your true fans when I come across to your blog. Best of luck for your book “Survivors”, which I believe will bring more change in these girls life & to so many others. I salute your bravery. God bless you.

  • Powerful work. I am always fascinated by your every series and words. Thank you for the gift of your voice, and eye, in the world. May it continue to move, touch and inspire others, as it has me. I have been silently witnessing your remarkable photography in your website & experiences shared in your blog. Akash, your works are deeply meaningful.

  • I found this to be a very effective piece of storytelling. It touched both the heart and the mind. Although much has been presented about child sex workers, this essay introduced a new tragic element, Oradexon. Even though my wife has written a book on Human Trafficking, I don’t think that she is aware of this new problem. This essay is helping to get that information out.

  • Images and text work well together and are in balance. It is in the right edge. Intriguing work.
    Mr Akash is from the region itself or from 20.OOO miles further? Only the quality of the story shown legitimates the story.

  • Thomas says:

    “Your photographs have pierced my heart with such a high intensity.”

    Dandy. Now, what are you personally going to do to help these girls in response to your heart being pierced by this essay?

  • Jim,

    Publishing photography is mass communication. As with any mass communication, the hope is to affect the perceptions and actions of a relative few. The fact that his heart was pierced is a good sign that others will have the same response. Of course, only a very few will take action. We can also hope for a gradual shift of perceptions and attitudes (i.e., moving us all closer to some tipping point).

    The effect may seem frustratingly small, but businesses and communications pay big money to put their messages out online, even though most of us think we ignore 100 percent of their ads. You, of course, know this very well as someone in the mass communication business.

    I think it’s a sad story how Dayanita Singh quit documenting sex workers in India because of similar concerns as yours, because her image didn’t have the effect she wanted. Her photograph moved me deeply and I can close my eyes and picture it now — and I was just a child, I believe, when it was published (I saw it in Ken Light’s book much later).

    Oh, and I do act, although in very small ways. The house across from me is a group home for rescued girls. We ask them over for dinner sometimes and to play with our daughters (the girls are very young). Because I know these girls, I speak up in conversations to help make others aware. I’m not part of any organization directly working on trafficking, but because my heart has been pierced, I keep my eyes open and act as opportunity arises. I hope I will have opportunities to do more, but I’ll be happy to affect even one.

    I’m not laying this on anyone else, just saying how it works with me.

  • Akash’s endeavours to eradicate, or, perhaps lessen the poverty faced by so many people is also my own aspiration. My field is in development. Hence, I have seen Akash’s dedication for rootless people from closely. Akash is not only portraying child labor o sex worker of his region. His is actively trying to make some real changes by his effort which I personally witnessed many times. His view of not exploiting the people he photographs, but, to convey and outreach their mute voices that have beeb oppressed by pathological systems and plagued by poverty. I admire him very much for his beliefs & deeds. I really surprised in a note of Imants mentioned – “dramatic romantic style” about Akash’s work. I wonder!…Personally his every series awaken me to let my hand to these helpless souls.

    Akash, Go ahead. Keep inspiring and making a difference by ‘shooting’ away on camera!

  • Jim – It can be extremely difficult for a person on one side of the globe to figure out how he, personally, might help some young girls held in bondage on the other side of the world in a society very different from his, a society in which law enforcement does not even make much of an effort to help.

    Perhaps you could give us a list of practical suggestions of things that individuals whose hearts have been pierced by this essay can do to personally help these girls.

    It would appear that you think it best that since it is so difficult to help, that photographers like G.M.B. Akash should just put their cameras down and the rest of us should just turn our heads away, say there is nothing we can do so, hell, why even bother being informed or expressing concern?

  • Bill!!

    Here’s just one link..

    http://www.emphas.is/web/guest/discoverprojects?projectID=314

    Read through the bottom, he does mire than ‘just’ take pics..

  • Thank you, Eva –

    I felt quite certain that G.M.B. Akash did a lot more. It was Jim’s rather cynical challenge to those readers whom Akash touched that caused me to write what I did to Jim. You should note that nowhere did I state or imply that Akash “just” takes pictures. That is not what I said at all.

    The link you provided does point Andy and all of us in a direction to help a bit and to get a book of powerful photography as well.

    Thank you again.

  • Bill..

    Mine too was more a reaction to what Jim wrote and you pointed out.. I did get what you were saying, think I know you a bit by now :)

  • … “point Thomas…”

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