Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 28, Tuesday, July 13, 2010



Born into Brothels

IMAGINE being brought up in the filthiest alleys of a red light district, where days begin with lurid screams from drunken men and women. Imagine a childhood where you toiled from dawn to dusk, filled buckets with water, scrubbed dirty pots and pans, and watched your family fight and curse each other. On some days you carried booze bottles to your mother's guests, on other days you clasped your ears to shun the sounds that came from a room next door. For most of us, who have lived a secure life, it is difficult to imagine a childhood smeared with obscenity, fear and a lot of anguish.

But there are children out there whose first day in this world marks the beginning of a tormented life. “Born into Brothels” is a bold attempt to bring to light the lives of children growing up in the notorious Sonagachi brothel of Kolkata. Some of the shots are heart breaking; some of the scenes make you contemplate what it would be like to grow up in an environment, where crimes and filth abound. Very few of us look into these children's lives, their past and their stories. What most of us do is label them as an unwanted, unacceptable burden on society. The film is old but its messages are not.

Made in 2004, Born into Brothels is a documentary film that talks about Puja, Avijit, Suchitra, Kochi, Manik, Shanti and their friends, and how they gradually become engrossed in photography. Their tutor was Zana Briski, an American photographer who came to Sonagachi for her work on prostitutes. Over time, these children become skilled photographers and with their snaps, exhibitions are arranged in New York City and Kolkata. The exhibitions bring Puja, Manik, Avijit and others into the limelight.

It is difficult to hold back tears when one eventually sees Avijit receiving an invitation to participate in a prestigious World Press Photo conference in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Only nine children from all over the world were called in for participation in the prestigious program. However, Avijit's participation becomes uncertain when Briski is faced with questions and red tape while trying to get a passport for Avijit, a red light kid. Briski's unyielding nature wins and the Kolkata passport office issues Avijit a passport. But children like Avijit are born and lost every day because their harsh reality tramples their genius, and leaves them with little or no opportunity to nurture their intellect.

Briski's perseverance makes it possible for four of the girls to get enrolled in a boarding school. However, all but one soon leave the school. One of them sneaks out while another's mother takes her back to Sonagachi. Guardians of most of these children refuse to let their children lead lives outside the walls of the brothel. The invisible shackle of misery that these children wear at birth remains unbreakable all through their lives not a thousand blows can shatter this fetter.

According to ECPAT International's 2006 Global Monitoring report on status of action against commercial sexual exploitation of children in Bangladesh, more than 20,000 children live in the 17 registered red light districts of the country. Many of these children are forced into or are expected to be in the same situation as their mothers. Many girls enter prostitution before the age of 12 while many boys grow up to become pimps. Horrid as it may sound, child prostitution is not uncommon in Bangladesh.

Directed by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, the Academy Award-winning documentary Born into Brothels raises human rights questions and reveals the state of the children who are born in brothels like Sonagachi. It can be said that the condition of red light children in Bangladesh is no different from the red light children in Kolkata. Although there are no reliable statistics but ECPAT's report estimated that some 27,000 Bangladeshi women and children are forced into prostitution in India and some 40,000 children in Pakistan. Reliable data are not available because the state has always turned a blind eye on the matter. Besides, only less than 10% of the children are registered at birth in Bangladesh, so millions of children are non-existent in government records.

Our social system forces upon the red light children a lifestyle that we ourselves find repulsive. As I watched the film I wondered where Avijit, Suchitra or Puja were, what and how they were doing. We do not know how their lives changed in the past six years. There are countless children like Puja, Suchitra and Avijit in Bangladesh too.

In a BBC report published in May, 2010, Mark Dummett exposed a most serious condition within the Bangladeshi brothels, where female children are injected a steroid that farmers use to fatten their cows. Many of these children were born into brothels, where their mothers live as sex workers. Most of these children follow their mothers' path because rarely an alternative is available to them.

Talking about prostitutes and their children is often considered a taboo in many families. As a general rule, we frown upon them. We almost never try to open up our minds to accept the fact that it is poverty and deception that push some of us in society into this darkest path, a path from where there is often no return. How many of these women and children do you think have willingly taken up a profession, which earns them nothing but humiliation?

By Wara Karim

Dear Doctor,
I would like to know about the different types of lasers that are being used for treatment today. How effective and safe are they?

Dear Salman,
First, I think its important to know what laser is? These are instruments, which amplify light into different kinds of energy waves, and radiation, which penetrate body tissues at different levels.

These are then absorbed by the target tissue and are used to treat areas in the body for various problems. Lasers can be used all over the body, but as a cosmetic surgeon I use laser for treatment of skin lesions and other problems.

The advantage of laser is that treatment can be given very accurately and precisely to the area needed without disturbing the surrounding tissues.

Many types of lasers are available for different problems, according to the depth and type of tissue that needs to be treated. There are ablative and non-ablative lasers, like Co2 laser is an ablative laser. It is used for excision of skin lesions as well as resurfacing of skin, in cases like acne scars, freckles, or rejuvenation.

Usually scarring does not occur in case of laser treatment, if used properly. There are different wavelengths and energy that need to be used at different depths and that is usually decided by the surgeon.

Then there are non-ablative lasers, which are used for treatment of lesions deep to the skin. Here the laser is absorbed by target tissue without causing any open wound on the skin. These are known as NdYag laser, Q-switch laser, Pulse dye lasers, Fractional laser etc. Each laser is used to treat different problems according to the site, type of tissue, and diagnosis. Treatment for unwanted hair, vascular lesions, some pigmentations, removal of tattoos, hair growth etc can be done by these lasers.

Like for the treatment of unwanted hairs NdYag lasers are usually used. Here the hair follicles in the unwanted area are destroyed or reduced in size so that the hair growth stops or reduces, the hair follicles becomes thin and the hair so does not show.

Different wavelengths are used on individuals, according to colour of hair and type of skin. Here there is no effect on the surface of the skin as the target tissue is the hair bulb and melanin present there, so there is no scarring. The treatment takes 6-8 months, one session per month.

No kind of anaesthesia is needed, as it is painless.
Some pigmentations are treated by Q-switch lasers. Care must be taken when choosing laser treatment for pigmentation, as not all pigmentation goes away, some, like Melasma will only become lighter but will not disappear.

It usually has a tendency to come back. But if the pigmentation is for other reasons then it may give good results. So each case is treated differently, by different wavelengths and energy. Removal of tattoos can also be done by Q-switch lasers.

Pulse dye lasers are used to treat vascular lesions, which target the blood cells and the size of the lesion is reduced.

Lasers are also used to stimulate hair growth in some cases. There is a better blood flow after laser treatment of scalp and this helps in hair growth.

When deciding on laser treatment it is important that the doctor is trained and the centre well reputed.

It is very important that proper diagnosis is done, as in all these treatments, precision is very important as to the dose of energy as well as wavelengths that needs to be used. Also patients should be aware of the type of laser being used.

Usually there is no side effect but if not done properly scarring and burning of skin may occur. In some centres IPL or VPL machines are used for skin treatments, which also give good result, but patient should be aware of what is being used, as it will avoid misunderstanding.

Lasers are a wonderful invention as it has made treatment easy by being precise, accurate and safe, without any side effects.

Dear Dr. Khan,
I have carious, front tooth. It turned black but I experience no pain. I visited a dentist who suggested a root canal and cap. But I am confused as to why I need root canal, given the fact that I do not experience any pain. Can you tell me what to do?
- Belal

Dear Mr. Belal,
For your carious front tooth, root canal with porcelain cap will be the permanent solution. But as you mentioned that you don't have any pain, you can try a special type of tooth colour filling known as composite/bonding. Hope that helps.

Dear Dr. Khan,
My son is 5 years old and was born with a sweet tooth. Although he brushes his teeth after taking regular meals from the age of 3, his incisors are affected by caries and already most of the visible parts are lost. He also complains of occasional pain.
How can I safeguard the other teeth until the time he grows permanent teeth?
- Ali Akbar, Dhanmondi

Dear Mr. Akbar,
I think he is suffering from bottle nursing syndrome, also known as baby bottle syndrome.

Nursing bottle syndrome is characterised by children generally under the age of four who are put to bed with a baby bottle filled with fruit juices or sweetened milks. The pattern is of severe decay of the front, top teeth.

No mum does this on purpose to her child, but it is quite common because mothers simply don't know that the sugar in the bottle can be a cause of this.

There are numerous reasons to repair baby teeth, but when baby incisors are this badly damaged, it is usually best to extract them. Baby incisors are not essential for maintaining spacing in the adult dentition, as are the baby molars and canines.

Dear Dr. Khan,
This is Mahmood Alam, age 29. I have bad breath but no caries or gum infection. I brush my teeth after every meal. Why is the problem still persisting? Is there any other cause?
- Mahmood

Dear Mahmood,
There are several causes for bad breath. Among them more than 60 percent are from oral and dental origin and rest from other systemic causes such as liver diseases, intestinal problems, sinusitis, pharyngitis etc. Can you visit your dental surgeon to exclude any oral and dental problems? I hope you have the answer.

Dear Dr Khan,
I am a regular reader of dental wise and your fan! I have a dentist phobia and a fear of dental drilling. I had bad experiences in childhood regarding dental procedures. Can you assure painless filling?
- Rahima Begum

Dear Mrs. Rahima,
The reasons people fear attending the dentist are varied and include pain, previous bad experience and fear of the unknown. I believe many dental surgeons in Bangladesh can assure a painless treatment.
Dentistry has come a long way over the last few years and many of you will be surprised on your next visit. Even if you have put off going to the dentist and are experiencing problems, your dentist has new ways to provide relatively painless treatment. To eliminate the discomfort associated with injections, topical agents are applied to tissues prior to the injection.
But whatever the new advances in dentistry “a clean soothing atmosphere and a calm, reassuring dentist can make your next dental visit more pleasant”.

Dear Dr Khan,
I am 52 years old and non-diabetic. Which paste and brush is good for this age group? How often should we undergo scaling? Your comments will be much appreciated.
- Fajle Ali Choudhury

Dear Mr. Choudhury,
You can use medium, soft bristled toothbrush and it is better not to use same brand of toothpaste for more than three months. We recommend dental scaling every six months. Gum bleeding, pain, food impaction and hypersensitivity are early signs of gum infection.

Football fever

I often wonder why people get so crazy about football! So many people fool around on this huge field trying to send this tiny ball into this huge goalpost. And most of the time they can't even do it. I cannot fathom what is so exciting about it. Give me cricket or tennis any day. My husband used to play cricket and he was first the captain and later the secretary of the local Mohammedan Club's cricket wing. I took an interest in his games, the players who came from Dhaka or elsewhere and cricket in general. I regularly watch cricket and tennis matches on TV. But “Bootfall” as my granddaughter Sarah calls it; I don't watch the game even if I'm sitting in front of the TV.

As the FIFA 2010 was getting closer, there was a flurry of activity amongst the football lovers. There were a lot of speculations about the teams. Flags were hung up. The Argentinean and Brazilian flags were most important with a German or Greek or Korean flag or the Union Jack seen here and there. The competition seemed to be about who could hang up the longest flag; some flags being so long that they could be wound around an apartment building twice over. Some of them have the names of the fans of the particular country. One flag I saw was a digital print with the portraits of the fans! Cool!!

People are getting into fights all over the country for their respective teams. I'm sure most people of these countries haven't even heard of Bangladesh leave alone the different towns.

Before the World Cup, Football Fever reached my home as well. One of my support staffs came to my husband and scratched his head before asking if he could hoist a flag. My husband asked him which flag and he scratched his head even further and squeaked that he wanted the Argentinean flag to adorn the balcony of our house. My husband looked at him with a twinkle in his eye and said, “But I support Brazil.” The boy shook his head sadly and said that it was all right. My husband joked and said, “We could put up two flags then. Argentina's and Brazil's.” The poor chap shook his head and headed downstairs. My husband called him back and told him that he could hoist the flag of his favourite team. The next morning we saw the flag of “Argen (the yellow sun) Tina” flying gaily on our flag post.

And thus began the World cup. Everyone has gone crazy. People have stopped socializing during match hours. Even my mother is so engrossed during match times that she doesn't even look up if I go to see her when. My driver gets quite irritated if I ask him to take out the car during the game. Luckily some matches are aired when I'm fast asleep.

Lots of people were heartbroken when Brazil was out of the game. As I'm typing, Argentina is playing and might even be out. The Argentinean fan in my house has promised to offer a shirni in Allah's name if Argentina wins. The other staff members are waiting impatiently for the shirni. But I think he's going to be heartbroken in a few minutes, and so will the others who are waiting to eat the shirni. And Argen (sun) Tina will be out of the game like Brazil was last night.


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