Walking the street...

Their high heels, tank tops and heavy makeup made them stand out. Both seemed to be waiting for a ride. They kept leaning towards the road giggling at each other.

Nojeba Haider October 01, 2010
As I sat in my car stuck in a traffic jam on Zamzama, I noticed two women standing on the pavement.

One appeared to be in her late twenties and the other barely 16 or 17-years-old.  Their high heels, tight tank tops and heavy makeup made them stand out. Both seemed to be waiting for a ride. They kept leaning towards the road giggling at each other. A Civic slowed down as it approached them. As a window rolled down a short conversation took place and the two women got in the car. I realized I had just witnessed two prostitutes getting a client.

For the next hour I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had just witnessed. I felt a strangely disgusted and depressed. Prostitution in Pakistan is taboo.  The sex-trade is an open secret although it is officially illegal.

Women involved in prostitution in Pakistan can be divided into three broad categories: those who have been trafficked or lured into the profession, those who were born in this profession, and those women who enter the profession for extra money.  Those born into the profession are 'schooled' at home and operate under the management of their mother or an elder female relative.

According to human rights groups, about 200,000 women and children are sold into in the slave trade. Women of Bengali descent are traded most often and 1,500 women are in Pakistani prisons.

The root causes of prostitution in Pakistan are poverty and a dearth of opportunities. When widows find themselves on the street with mouths to feed they feel prostitution offers the only solution. A Pakistani prostitute can earn Rs2,000 to Rs3,000 rupees per day compared to the average monthly income of Rs2,500 rupees for domestic staff or a laborer.

I wondered that night, if prostitution is illegal in Pakistan, why is it so common?

I believe the truth is that in an increasingly materialistic society, values have become skewed, and practices that were once considered taboo no longer bring forth the censure that was once their due.

In many cases, politicians act as procurers in return for political favors such as lucrative ministries while businessmen resort to the practice to clinch business deals. Lahore’s famous red light area comes alive only at night. We all know prostitutes are available there - if it’s illegal why is nothing being done about it? Why cant we educate these women and provide them employment opportunities to put an end to this dark trade?

Now as the scale of the flood crisis worsens the threat of trafficking is growing. According to human rights expert, Dr Tahmina Rashid, human trafficking was already a very real threat before the floods and now, as the monsoon rains threateten to hit southern Pakistan, more people are in danger.
Nojeba Haider A corporate banker based in Karachi. Nojeba tweets @nojeba.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Yousaf | 12 years ago | Reply Still you are unable to give sex education to your kids. Your every young is taught by friends or by watching porn movies. Your sharia compliant education is even not delivered. There is every kind of subject covered in your education system, why not this one? Your mouths are shut, and you are an afraid society to believe in open talks. I never someone wrote this kind of column/blog in Urdu news papers.
Nobody | 12 years ago | Reply @Farhad: That's sort of why Islam (and many other religions) encourages marriage at a young age, although in today's world that seems to be getting more difficult. As for raging hormones, might be news to you but young women/girls have raging hormones too but you don't see them using that as an excuse to jump in bed with a stranger (well, atleast not all of them). That's a weak excuse for anyone to solicit sex or justify prostitution....however, I too agree that as abhorrent as I think the sex trade industry is, to abruptly stop it (not even possible) would be taking so many womens' livelihoods away from them and until society can provide other ways for them to earn a living, not much we can do.
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