Police on Friday prevented around 100 sex workers and activists from holding a rally in Dhaka to mark International Sex Workers’ Rights Day.
The rally, organised by Sex Workers Network, was supposed to begin at Shahbagh and proceed to the National Press Club. However, Shahbagh police stopped the march at the interchange, alleging that underage workers were preparing to take part.
The workers, however, claimed that all of the underage participants were not sex workers but their children.
“We have asked the police to let us continue the rally but they said we are not allowed by law as we had children and underage sex workers with us,” General Secretary of Sex Workers Network Chumki Begum told the Dhaka Tribune.
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Members of Sex Workers Network decide to march without a banner after police bar them from holding a rally Mahmud Hossain Opu/ Dhaka Tribune
Despite the bar, nearly 95 street-based sex workers gathered in front of the National Museum at Shahbagh, with some of them accompanied by their children.
Shefali Begum, a 26-year-old street sex worker, brought along her daughter Alifa, six, and her one-year-old son, Sifat.
“We brought our children with us as this is the only day we can inform society that we too are part of it and our children also have rights just as others do,” she said.
Mitu, also 26, demanded legal recognition and rights for their profession at the march.
"We don’t receive any recognisation as legitimate workers so we are deprived of our rights,” she said.
After being stopped by police, the workers decided to continue the march without a banner, ending it in Ramna Park.
Shahbagh police station Officer in Charge Abul Hasan said the rally was halted as the organisers had not sought official clearance in advance.
“We requested them to hold the rally later with prior permission,” he said.
Sex Workers’ Rights Day began in 2001 when over 25,000 sex workers gathered in India for a festival, organised by the Kolkata-based Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee. This was despite hectic lobbying by many opposition activists, who tried to revoke their permit.
Since then, many sex worker groups worldwide have observed March 3 every year as International Sex Workers’ Rights Day. In Bangladesh, Sex Workers Network began its observations in 2002.