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.



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”

  • Changing the subject a little…

    I love what Akesh says about his work (at the link just above): “Above all I have seen their struggles. But I also see the beauty of people and the human soul in the pictures I take. And though the circumstances of some of the people I portray may be grim, the people themselves are always remarkable characters.” Yes, I want to do that. More importantly, I can see that he is doing that in these pictures.

    I understand the concerns about taking photographs of people in poverty in beautiful, even stunning color, or in beautiful black and white (not to mention grim, dirty black and white). In documentary or journalistic photography, I don’t appreciate when the aesthetic or the technique or the psychology/ideology of the photographer obscures the souls of the people they portray. A great photographer would fully engage and yet get out of the way (perhaps like the elusive attempt to take a head on picture of an empty mirror…).

    This is an entirely subjective statement, but that’s what I see in many of these images, and that’s what I miss any much photography of suffering, both the beautiful and gritty varieties.

    Of course, if you don’t believe people have souls, or any divine reflection — if you can’t honestly say namaste — then I expect you’d disagree.

  • Thanks, Eva… yes, I agree… and I thought that might be the case, but, given the words and the !, I had to be sure…

    And by the way… I am archiving my blog New Year’s day and starting a new one that will allow me to post larger horizontal pictures. Then, on Monday, I am going to kick off my new blog with my long-delayed series on the loft.

    I think it will be better this way.

  • “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?”

    Google “Child Sex workers in Bangladesh”. You’ll get over 800,000 images and 2.5 million pages. Guess what? The plight of child sex workers in Bangladesh continues to worsen. Massive exposure seems to be about as effective as no exposure in creating real change. The only parties to this that seem to get strokes are the photographers.

  • A photographer could likely do more good selling that $10,000 Leica rig they are shooting these kids with and giving the money to some NGO working directly to make their lives better. We sure don’t need any more snapshots of them.

  • Jim..

    All the money of this world won’t do anything if there’s not a shift in our thinking and behaving. It starts with YOU! As in each one of us.

  • My only political criticism of the piece is the use of Orwellian language in the title. Child sex workers? No such thing. These children are sexually brutalized slaves. And they have no customers or clients. They are repeatedly assaulted by depraved pedophiles.

    As for Jim’s incredibly lame logical fallacy regarding google, I googled “Jim Powers child sex workers” and got 1,610,000 hits and 1,690,000 images. What’s the meaning of that?

  • EVA

    Not to defend Jim’s apathy but I would say that 90% of the world’s population probably condemn child sex workers (THINKING). That same 90% would never consider patronizing a child prostitute (BEHAVIOR).

    OUR thinking and behaving, or the majority of the world’s thinking and behaving is not what is allowing this to continue.

    Maybe the people that need to be educated are the workers and patrons themselves. And again, not to defend Jim, I doubt that any number of photos will educate them or change their behavior. There has to be a more effective solution.

    But that said, if photojournalists are shooting these stories to show that this behavior still continues — great. If they are shooting it for recognition and contest wins, then they are as guilty of abuse as the men who patronize these girls. (I am not accusing anyone specifically of such a crass act.)

  • And MW is correct. They are not “workers.” I should have worded that differently also.

  • What would happen, if every photographer in this world stopped to photograph this?
    It would continue, but many people would believe it had stopped.
    This alone means to me – as long it exists, it has to be documented and shown.

  • Jim – Throwing out those big numbers to make a point obscures your logical gaps. The world is too complex simply to conclude that photographers don’t make a difference. Using your own logic, why not conclude that all the NGO’s are useless? So why sell my camera equipment and give it to them? Really, the best way to make a difference and find hope is to become small, local, personal. But I think we can have a foot in both the macro and the micro.

    I agree with part of what I hear you saying. The world is full of people who prefer delusions and stoking their own egos. I am filled with anger when I see photographers flocking to scenes of injustice because there will be a market for the images but not making any relationships with the people. Where are the photographers the next day? Though some are still around. Akesh seems like one such person.

    If I had to choose between taking pictures and actually working with real people to do something, then I would sell my camera gladly. But it’s not that simple. I have to figure out how to live in a world where I don’t know what to do, but I have to do something. In such a complex world, it’s so easy to give up and look for easier choices.

    I’m nothing in the wide world of photography, with few ego strokes and little money to prove myself, but I know my photographs have brought thousands of dollars and attention (the kind that leads to action) to specific people and NGO’s and kids. It’s been useful and will be useful within its limits. Not that I have to justify calling myself a photographer this way. I simply love taking pictures, just like others love to paint or write or run. That alone is a pretty good reason to be a photographer, but it would never be a good enough reason for me to check out on real people — like I’m doing right now as my wife cleans up after dinner as I sit typing.

  • And as we passionately debate, the beat goes on.

  • Pete..

    You might be right on the thinking, but I fear not on the behaving.. looking the other way is behaving also..


    If for you the beat goes on, ’cause you don’t do anything, it doesn’t mean all the others do the same..

  • EVA

    The only people that can truly do anything about it are the people involved. What are you suggesting, military action?

    All anyone else can do is educate and assist.


    “And as we passionately debate, the beat goes on.”

    Then maybe you should sign off BURN and go help do something about it. I am sure they would welcome your help.

  • If by “people involved” you mean the country’s government, police, and judicial system as well as the victims and the perps. And from wealthier countries’ perspectives, there’s probably some financial aid to those entities involved.

  • All this talk about the big picture, solving the unsolvable problem, doesn’t that sound like ego? If someone is willing to start in a small way, with one step, he or she will find a way forward.

  • (back on BURN – away for the longest time)

    has anyone ever considered this……..

    the eyes which roll belong to the child sex worker each time she sees a photographer


    what if they dont want to be helped?
    what if they just want their pictures taken…
    that for a single moment, a photographer there provides them a chance to look and BE beautiful..
    for once someone is interested only in looking at them?

  • Gracie!!!
    Radical way of thinking.. I like your thoughts:)

  • and maybe it is is all about photographic enhancement of sadness………….. most photographers are like wombats “eats shoots and leaves”

  • Jim talking about himself, while talking about ze world (Thanks for sharing it with us)…

  • Wow – very strange. The last comment I left here has disappeared.

    And it was an absolutely brilliant comment too – the most brilliant that I or any other commenter has ever left on Burn.

    But that flash of brilliance can never be recreated.

    It is gone. Forever.

    I think I will go take a nap by the fireplace, the snow coming down outside.

    Cats will join me. We will have a good time napping. We will forget about all the horrible things taking place in the world as we enjoy the peace and quiet of a dim, winter afternoon in South Central Alaska.

    For the duration of that nap, it will seem as if the whole world is in peace.

    Wonderful peace.

  • Bill… sounds wonderful. Enjoy, my friend.

  • Panos!!!

    Sadly it is us whose lives are simple who make things complicated.

    Those in the world who live just to survive look at things simply. Things are already complicated.

    WE SHOULD NAP. Like Frostfrog did… WE all SHOULD NAP. Take a rest and breather from ourselves.

    So for me… I shall drink… drink to the happiness that is always there for us to find. It is always there. Cheers!


    you saw the comment published? we surely would never delete anything…let me see what i can find out…..

  • Frostfrog
    More than once I have spent a long time thoughtfully typing a comment, and forgotten to hit “submit”, or clicked a link, etc. Hope you had a great nap.
    Still hoping to read your report on New York, and see a few photos from your time there.


    i cannot figure out what happened to your lost comment….sorry


    i think we are going to make an essay out of the loft class work…i have too much going on right now to be totally efficient, but if you are patient just a bit more, then i think you will see Bill’s fine work right here….


    still cannot get you on skype..no matter…i have you worked into my workshop one way or another…HeadOn folks very much interested in education for the young….something we all share…looking forward…

    cheers, david

  • David skype is a bit iffy here in Tasmania plus I was on the road for three days, I will try to get on when you are on…….a bit hit and miss. Teenager works are in the bag easy to obtain I have a series sitting at home from one young lady ready to go. Just need a venue.

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