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Tuesday, 14 March, 2000, 16:44 GMT
Bangladesh says prostitution legal
Sex workers protest
Brothel evictions last year sparked angry protests


The Bangladeshi High Court has ruled that prostitution as a livelihood is not illegal.

Lawyers say the judgement is highly unusual because it makes Bangladesh one of the few Islamic countries which do not ban prostitution.

This judgement means that prostitutes in Bangladesh now have the legal authority to practise their trade.

The judges made their comments as the court was ruling in a case brought by over 100 sex workers who have been in homes for vagrants since July last year, when two brothels on the outskirts of Dhaka were closed down by the authorities.

The police action was highly controversial and was much criticised by human rights groups.

One of these brothels, Tan Bazar, was widely regarded as the oldest and largest in the country.

'Illegal' action

The two judges hearing the case of the sex workers said that the government had acted illegally in closing down the brothels.

They condemned the action of the police in evicting the sex workers, accusing them of acting solely on behalf of the landlords who owned the land where the brothels were located.

Commentators say that while many Bangladeshis frown upon prostitution, the practise is nevertheless allowed if prostitutes have a licence.

This is only given to them if they can convince the authorities that they have no other means of earning an income.

Some lawyers says that the court ruling may be challenged, because the Bangladeshi constitution says that gambling and prostitution should not be encouraged.

Aids fear

Bangladesh has a large sex industry and a UN survey says hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis visit sex workers every day.

UN officials fear the country may face a massive increase in the number of Aids cases, which are still fairly low when compared with neighbouring India and Thailand.

The BBC's David Chazan in Dhaka says many health officials have welcomed the ruling, saying it could help them in their efforts to contain the spread of HIV.

Outlawing prostitution, the officials say, only makes it more difficult to distribute condoms to sex workers.

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13 Jul 99 | South Asia
Bangladesh prostitutes up in arms
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