"I am ashamed to hear the sex workers testimonies of harassment, humiliation and torture that compromise their dignity."
The statement was made by Dr Mizanur Rahman, Chairman of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in choked voice. "I could hardly check tear rolling down my cheeks after hearing their stories," he remarked.
The rights of the sex-workers are enshrined in the constitution and the state has pledged to ensure their security, protection and shelter for the livelihood, reiterated the NHRC Chairman.
A public hearing on the rights to life and livelihood of sex workers was jointly organised by NHRC, Sex Workers Network (SWN), Sex Workers Allies South Asia (SWASA) and Shongoti was held at the Senate Bhaban of Dhaka University on Thursday.
The rights commissioner said that the civil rights of the sex workers have been blatantly violated, and added that "enough is enough" and the state must provide security to them.
He urged the authorities to recognise the century old profession of the sex workers. He reminded that the previous British Raj and Islamic Pakistan did not interfere with their profession.
He asked the law enforcing agencies, why should the sex workers be forced to pay protection money, every day, every week or every month.
"Why cannot they pursue their profession independently? Why the society, the state and social stigma have marginalised the sex workers, and are supposed to enjoy equality," he said.
Drawing the attention of the heads of the law enforcing agencies, he appealed that time has come to raise voice against the systematic police harassment, intimidation and torture, when the sex workers are forced to have group sex by policemen under duress.
He suggested that the law enforcing authority bosses to include in the training curriculum the rights of the marginalised community and also urged them to punish those policemen who harass, intimidate and torture the sex workers.
He also urged the government to amend all the laws to decriminalise sex workers profession and exempt them from punishable offences.
He advised the authorities to review the court litigations against the sex workers and provide legal aid to reach settlements of the hundreds of false cases against them.
He sought empathy of the judges towards the plights of the sex workers.
Natasha Ahmed of SWASA said an estimated brothel based sex workers population would be 80,000. The number of brothels in Bangladesh presently is 11, after the Madaripur brothel has been forcibly closed recently.
However, it is difficult to estimate the floating and high profile sex workers as they are hard to reach, she said.
Advocate Shipra Goswami of legal aid rights organisation BLAST had been sensitising the brothel based sex workers of their legal rights observed that the livelihood of the floating sex workers are the worst than the brothel based sex workers, despite serious limitations of those living in the brothels.
At the public hearing six sex workers Akhi, Pori, Hasi, Fatema, Nadi and Shanu described their ordeal of their eviction of brothels, harassment of police, local musclemen, and forced sex in groups by both, the musclemen and policemen.
The sex workers lamented that the mosque Imams bar holding janaza for their dead colleagues. The graveyards caretakers refuse to bury in the face of resistance from the neighbourhood elders. Schools turn down applications for primary school admission of the children of the sex workers as they cannot mention the name of the wards' father.