From Insight Desk
The KKS School
A Glimmer of Hope
This fortnight, Star Insight tells the heartwarming story of the KKS School and Safe Home a ray of light for the Daulatdia brothel of Bangladesh which is home to 1,600 sex workers and their 400 children. Read on to find out about how, since 1993, Karmajibi Kallayn Sangstha (KKS) has been providing socially forsaken children of the brothel a fighting chance to emancipate themselves from the shackles of a life defined by discrimination, bondage and sexual cruelty.
Zahidul Naim Zakaria
Is it fair to subject children to the consequences of their parent's actions? Should society condemn a convict's son because of his father's wrongdoings? Whether we want to act compassionately or not, the human mind is fraught with superstitions and preconceived notions. Who we are makes us think twice before accepting those who came from questionable origins origins that they themselves never chose, but with which we judge them nonetheless. In the end, it is our acceptance that may ultimately change their life.
Prostitution is large business in Bangladesh. Following a case filed by over 100 sex workers who were evicted by law enforcement officials from brothels in the outskirts of Dhaka, prostitution was legalized by the High Court in 2000. Prostitutes can operate in registered brothels as long as they have a license, despite the practice being frowned upon. Health workers support legalization of sex workers since it makes it easier to distribute condoms and helps to contain the spread of STDs including HIV. Currently, there are 14 red-light districts where sex workers carry documentation proving that they are more than eighteen years old. The Daulatdia Brothel community, the largest brothel in Bangladesh, is situated 4-5 hours from Dhaka and serves as a transportation hub for river ferries, trucks and trains. There are 1,600 women and girls working in the brothel and roughly 400 children living with their mothers. The daughters of brothel workers try to hide the fact that they have reached puberty, to avoid being forced to start working in the brothel. According to Claudia Hammond, a BBC Journalist, 3000 men visit the Daulatdia brothel every day.
Back in 2002, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) estimated that more than 20,000 children live in the 14 registered red-light areas of Bangladesh. Children born here live everyday life watching their mothers being exploited, some help their mothers in household chores and bring refreshments for their mother's clients. Boys tend to become pimps once they grow up and girls continue in their mothers' profession. Most girls enter the profession before the age of 12. It's not as if these children can simply walk into public schools. They are constantly looked down upon and treated as outcasts until the day comes when they revert to the morally undignified choices that people have been accusing them of. The AHRC sites societal indifference and apathy towards children of sex workers as one of the primary reasons for growing numbers of child sex workers, and estimate that 13,000 children in Bangladesh are prey to the commercial sex industry of the country. However, it should be remembered that the invisible nature of the issue of prostitution makes it extremely difficult to gather reliable data.
To provide education and hope for a better life, the Karmajibi Kallayn Sangstha or KKS School was established in 1993 with technical and financial support of Save the Children Australia. A rented room within the brothel area served as the class room for 25 girls and an additional 100 children who had been born at the Daulatdia brothel, were admitted in four satellite schools in abutting areas. People of the locality had considered educating these children wrong and illegal prior to existence of the KKS School. Children from the brothel were teased and discriminated against, which meant many didn't want to go to school. Fakir Abdul Zabbar serves as the Executive Director and Fakir Rumon serves as the Director of KKS the first organization in Bangladesh to focus on the needs of children of brothel workers.
In 1995, following the interest of the sex workers themselves, the KKS school was centralized half a kilometer away from the brothel zone. The school has expanded organically since then, to a current total of 365 students studying in classes up to Class 5 from Nursery. The total includes 169 children from the brothel and 174 from other families. The male-female ratio at the school is 0.9 to 1. The single most important achievement of KKS has been narrowing the divide between children of the brothels and other families, raising acceptance, giving the children a better chance of integrating themselves into the mainstream population in the future. Bianca Collier, Save the Children Australia Program Manager Asia, said in a podcast that the KKS School is locally being recognized as a better school than others in the area and people are sending their children there to study in the same classes as the children of sex workers. So, the social stigma is slowly being lightened.
Two years after the formal launching of the KKS School, one event evoked KKS and Save the Children Australia to take up an even more wholesome intervention program for the children of the Daulatdia brothel. One particular sex worker tried to enlist her girl as a sex worker the child was only in Class 3 at the time. This made the students of KKS School distraught, as they feared meeting the same fate. In 1997, the Safe Home is set up with 5 girls to protect them from abuse and exploitation. In addition to access to education, it provides them with a home away from the brothel environment, food, clothing and counselling. Currently, 50 girls live at the Safe Home. Besides sports, music, cultural activities, religious teaching and even basic IT training, the girls are provided life skills training to empower them to make choices about their futures and to raise their self-esteem. The children organize and celebrate national and international occasions such as the International Mother Language Day, Bengali New Year, Victory Day, Children's Rights Day, etc.
An evaluation of the KKS School by Save the Children Australia conducted in 2008 found that the girls in the Safe Home are achieving remarkable results in their education, they have a stronger sense of self worth and dignity which has resulted a desire to live a life different from their mothers in the brothel. Students of the school have participated and won debate competitions at the zilla level for three years in a row in 2002, 2003 and 2004. They have also participated in Shishu Academy's Jari Gaan Competition and Dance Competitions at the zilla level. Students of the KKS School feel privileged to be a part of the school, and they realize that they would otherwise become vagrants and miscreants. Alamin Sheikh, a student of the school, dreams of joining the armed forces of Bangladesh someday. His school mates Joy, Alamin and Noyon have high hopes of becoming cricket players. Farid of Class 4 has a more intellectual ambition - to be a doctor. The mothers are proud that their children participate in academic and cultural activities at the zilla level. Above all, they are delighted that their children have a chance to be educated. Jostna, Alamin's mother, hopes seeing her son grow up to become a school teacher.
In 2007, two girls from the school visited Australia on a 5 day tour. Six students have graduated from SSC, one has completed HSC and two of these students are currently studying to become a paramedic at the Gono Shastho Kendro (People's Heath Centre). Four girls have even gotten married and are living 'normal' lives. The word normal has a wholly different meaning for these children. The children at KKS School and Safe Home are no longer the children of depravity. Every morning, they wake up to a new sun.
Is it fair to subject children to the consequences of their parent's actions? Should the children of sex workers be looked down upon for decisions not made by them? As long as the KKS School exists, children born into the Daulatdia brothel won't be.
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