Barsha [not her real name] is a seventh grader who has a natural talent for sketching. She keeps a drawing book in a trunk under her bed. She has done a sketch of her mother with the caption: "A mother is the only bank in the world, where we deposit all our happiness and sorrow."
Another girl, a tenth grader, has won four gold medals in karate competitions held in Nepal since 2012. Three other girls can play the violin. There are some talented boys living there too. Many of them dream of becoming world-famous cricketers, and others have gained expertise in singing, martial arts and playing the drum.
These talented children live and study at Sonar Bangla Children Home in Kuizbari village under Tangail sadar upazila. They are the children of sex workers. Many of their mothers work in Kandapara brothel in Tangail. However, their children now have a shot at a normal childhood and a life free from exploitation. They complete their primary education here and then continue at other secondary educational institutions across Tangail.
The children's home is being run in association with Terre des Hommes Netherlands, and a non-governmental organisation called Society for Social Service (SSS) since 1998, to help rehabilitate vulnerable children in Tangail. The home has separate accommodation facilities for boys and girls.
The children living here have won several awards in a number of cultural events, including one from Bangladesh Shishu Academy. Trophies and medals are on display in a showcase at the office of Principal Md Abdul Haq.
"The children are engaged in learning and playing the violin, singing songs and other cultural activities so that they do not feel depressed. We also offer counselling. Their mothers visit them here every Friday, who say they would not encourage their daughters about prostitution," Abdul Haq said.
Tangail and Dhaka North City Corporation have jointly undertaken a project titled "Combating Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children." The project is funded by the European Union and technically supported by Terre des Hommes Netherlands. A Dhaka-based child-focused NGO, Social and Economic Enhancement Programme (SEEP), and Breaking the Silence (SSS) are also running similar projects in tandem with the Society for Social Service (SSS).
The Dhaka Tribune got in touch with the children and their mothers. There are 56 students in SSS Municipality High School. The mothers of most children live in a brothel, while many others live in rented buildings. The school also has a student from the transgender community. The children’s home also established a primary school, and it allows the children to study tuition free.
The children living at Sonar Bangla Children Home are being provided with necessary skill development and vocational training. The training programme enables them to pursue a sustainable livelihood.
"We have been working with the children for a long time. We managed to stop at least a few children from entering the sex trade. Most importantly, children of sex workers can prove themselves to be equally competent, if given an opportunity in any field," said Abdul Hamid Bhuiyan, executive director of Society for Social Service (SSS).
Rubi [not her real name] said she had sent her two sons to the children's home when they were very young. Both the boys are now studying in separate colleges in Dhaka. Another girl is doing her post-graduation at a college in Tangail. Many of the girls living at the home have been trained in nursing. Several former students are studying and working in Dhaka.
Fourteen girls, who lived and studied at the children’s home, got married without having to conceal their identities.