Oil painting of a prostitute from Lahore's Red Light District, by Iqbal Hussain
Prostitution in the Land of the Pure
Whenever I hear the word ‘prostitute’ the first image that comes to mind is an inappropriately dressed woman standing in filthy streets waiting for a client. The discussion on the issue how cruel the profession is to women – their empty, hungry stomachs forcing them to sell their bodies in order to buy bread for the family. But let’s think for a moment; what about all the men, the children, and the teenagers that engage in such acts?
In Pakistan, the topic of prostitution is taboo – one that is hardly ever discussed. It is difficult to describe or understand the scale of this corrupt profession.
The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) has said that hardly anyone has ever tried to challenge the problem of male prostitution thanks to the ‘strong social taboo’ it carries with it. This logically translates to the fact that the health department does not even have any data or records related to male prostitution, so they cannot tell us the exact statistics.
However, according to the National Commission for Child Welfare and Development, in 2001, it is thought that as many as 15,000 to 20,000 children were affected by commercial sexual exploitation. ‘Free floating’ prostitution resembles ‘the pick and choose scheme’ and is widespread in many major cities where under-aged children including hijras (transgenders) can be picked right off the street.
A child prostitute of 14 years can be easily bought with the meagre sum of three to five thousand rupees. Male child prostitutes – ranging from ages 15-25 – are thought to be cheaper than their female counterparts. Unlike females, male prostitutes are reluctant to reveal specific problems and details about their work because of social taboos.
Surveys show that children as young as eight-years-old work as male prostitutes. Since they have limited skills to rely on in order to support themselves, prostitution becomes the most practical and lucrative form of employment. According to data collected, children allege that police and army soldiers make up a ‘significant portion of their clientèle’.
The sad thing is that even though many of these young boys are free to leave the profession whenever they want to, financial difficulties and lack of choices force them to continue. They, thus, grow up to be pimps themselves. A child prostitute is believed to earn up to Rs12,000 per month which is more than most jobs pay children.
Similar to prostitution is the practice of ‘bachabazi’ which exists in Pakistan mostly in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). It is thought to refer to older men keeping young boys as their sexual partners with the former becoming responsible for the education, clothing and general care of the latter in return for ‘sexual favours.’
Through a study, the National Coalition of Child Rights and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) discovered that a third of the men living in NWFP were proud to be pedophiles. Another 11% thought there was nothing wrong with this practice.
The National Commission for Child Welfare and Development (NCCWD) interviewed 233 children in the country’s four provinces and found out that a shocking amount of 159 revealed that they had engaged in commercial sex. Out of the 159, 98 were boys who found business in public places such as hotels, restaurants, video shops, cinema halls and parks.
According to surveys, 95% of the teenage prostitutes in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore were sexually abused by their close relatives, friends and teachers before entering the business of prostitution. Contrary to common judgement of prostitutes normally being uneducated and poor, research has shown that 74% of them were university graduates.
Although one tends to associate prostitution only to women, men, teenagers and children are equal victims, suffering the cruel injustice of being sexually abused. Young children are pushed into this profession simply because they do not have enough money or the skills that come from a good education. Moreover, young, naïve people fall victim to the cruel and ruthless pimps who entrap them with promises of money and transform them into the very same monsters they are.
Prostitution, whether it is legal or not in various countries, is a form of discrimination against humanity. It is degrading, it spreads diseases, and encourages lazy labour. We must put a stop to it.