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When dreams turn into nightmares

  • Published at 12:58 am June 6th, 2018
  • Last updated at 12:19 am June 7th, 2018

Ziasmin Akter, a recent returnee from Jordan, shared with the Dhaka Tribune what she had endure during her employment in the country Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Bangladeshi female migrant worker forced into prostitution in Jordan

Ziasmin Akter lives in Manikganj. Her father, Tara Mia, is a van driver and her mother is a homemaker.

Since Ziasmin grew up in extreme poverty, she dreamt of doing something to eradicate her family’s misery.

One day she heard that many women from Manikganj were going abroad to earn money as domestic helpers. She began to dream of working overseas herself, and of being able to build a better future for her family.

Ziasmin’s dream move has already turned into a nightmare, however, after recently returned home from Jordan six months pregnant by a man she had been paid to entertain.

“Going abroad for work has become a curse in my life,” Ziasmin told the Dhaka Tribune on Tuesday. “I can feel the movements of the baby inside my body but I never expected it this way.”

Ziasmin’s Jordanian ordeal began when she sought the help of a local broker, who arranged her a job in Amman with a salary of Tk16,000 per month.

On October 23, 2016, she landed in the Jordanian capital and started working for a wealthy family. The experience of a lifetime, however, soon became one to forget.

“I could not stay there for more than a year due to torture and abuse,” Ziasmin said. “Being unable to endure inhuman torture, one day I escaped from the house.”

A long way from home and alone, Ziasmin began wandering through the streets of a market in Amman.

“I knew nobody in that city; I was seeking shelter, but I didn’t trust Jordanians,” she said. “The random Arab people in the market made me remember the previous incidents that happened with me at my employer’s residence.”

Chance encounter turns sour

By an extraordinary coincidence, she then met a Bangladeshi woman named Sonia who came from from the same upazila of her home district, Manikganj.

“I thought I had finally found a refuge. She asked me if I wished to go with her to her place. I agreed instantly.”

It would be no happy chance encounter, however.

“I was yet to know what misfortune was waiting for me,” Ziasmin recalled, breaking down into tears. “Sonia was a pimp who forced me to engage in prostitution at her residence for a year. The dream I once cherished turned into a nightmare.”

Since Ziasmin returned pregnant from Jordan, her poverty-stricken family has been facing enormous social problems in their community.

Ziasmin herself cannot leave her house, and is confined to a room of their shanty like a caged bird. Her father, Tara Mia, has no choice but to face down the detractors, as he struggles to keep the family afloat through his job as a day labourer.

“I have to work with many kinds of people (and) when people talk about the issue I feel embarrassed,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. “I cannot mix or work with people freely. Every day, I am facing financial hardship to take care of my family.”

Tara Mia said he had been able to contact his daughter during her ordeal in Jordan.

“During my daughter’s stay in the brothel, I talked o the pimp Sonia through video call but she did not allow my daughter to talk with us,” he said.

“She took away all of Ziasmin’s savings, valuables, and belongings. I told her I did not need money and begged her to just release my daughter.

“One day during the video call, I found Sonia beating my daughter with a belt as Ziasmin did not follow her orders. She tortured my daughter throughout the year and now sent her home with six months of pregnancy. I want justice,” the helpless father said while trying to hide his tears.

Who is ‘Pimp Sonia’?

Ziasmin estimated that around 30 women from India, Sri Lanka, and other foreign countries were involved insex work in Amman city, either willingly or unwillingly. Many of these were enslaved to Sonia.

“She takes 50 Jordanian Dinars from each customer and gives only 15 Dinars to the women for each service,” Ziasmin said.   

According to locals, although Sonia left Bangladesh more than a decade ago, her father, Behaj Uddin, still lives in the same district.

“Behaj Uddin is not originally a local resident but they have been settled here,” Md Billal Hossain, a local union parishad member, said. “Their financial status was not very good at the beginning but things started changing after Sonia went abroad.”

After learning that Ziasmin had become trapped in Sonia’s brothel, Tara Mia repeatedly visited Sonia’s parents to plea for their help.

“I requested Behaj Uddin to tell his daughter to free Ziasmin but he did not care,” Tara Mia said. “I also requested Sonia’s mother and brother but they asked me to remain silent. They even threatened to kill me as I was visiting their home repeatedly.”

What is the future of the baby?

As Ziasmin’s delivery date draws near, her parents and other family members are becoming more anxious. None of them want her to give birth to this unexpected child, even though it is already too late to terminate the pregnancy.

A spokesperson for the Brac Migration Program - which has taken responsibility for Ziasmin’s treatment medical checkups - said there is also outside pressure on her to have an abortion.

“The villagers are insisting on the procedure,” Al Amin said. “It would be risky for both for the baby and Ziasmin. We are planning to bring her into one of our safe homes for delivery.”

Shariful Hasan, head of Brac’s Migration Program, said they were ready to provide the victim’s family with legal support.

He said: “This is a horrible experience for the family. Our society is not that supportive during such a situation. Such incidents are not few in number but our state does not provide any support to the victims.

“If the government cooperates with victims, then we will be able to deal with these problems together,” he said.