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Gently, she smears pale concealer over her face with her fingertips and blends it into the skin. She checks her reflection in a small turquoise mirror, and breaks into a smile. But clamber past the crowds of wide-eyed girls squatting on red plastic buckets by the entrance to step inside, and you hear a different story.
Rupa waits tight in her bedroom, flicking absentmindedly between channels on the portable TV in the corner. While condom usage in Kandipara used to hover at about 40 per cent 20 years ago, following free distribution and peer awareness programmes, their popularity now appears to be on the decline. I only felt pain. She fell pregnant shortly after — but when her husband was killed in an accident at work, her family refused to take her back.
On many occasions, they flee their husbands and fall directly into the hands of the traffickers themselves, but we do hear about girls whose husbands sell them to the brothels directly. For three days following her arrival at Kandipara, Rupa says she was locked in a room and beaten whenever she tried to leave. She was fed Oradexon — cow steroids — in a bid to force her body to develop and make her gain weight to look older.
Customers also pay more for former child brides. Azharul Islam is the Program Manager of Rights Jessore, an internationally funded Bangladeshi NGO working to counteract child trafficking both across the Bangladesh-India border and within the confines of the country itself. As a result, Rights Jessore have had to implement measures so that they can surpass local police and go straight to the superintendent or the Home Office — who can then tell the police to cooperate. They say they are too busy and that they have other priorities than looking for lost little girls.
The more child brides there are in Bangladesh, the more girls are vulnerable to trafficking and sex work. I do feel really helpless. Back in her room, Rupa lies on her bed and stares at the ceiling. She has pain in her lower abdomen, and a bottle of half-empty vodka rests on the floor.