Life is getting even more dangerous for the young girls enslaved in the many, massive brothels across Bangladesh, thanks to a disturbing and growing trend: force-feeding child trafficking victims a steroid used to fatten cattle. The long-term side affects of such drugs on humans are largely unknown, but the short-term effects range from dangerous to deadly.
By law in Bangladesh, any woman working in a brothel must be 18 years or older. But in practice, that guideline is practically laughable. For decades, Bangladeshi brothels have been filled with young girls, ranging from pre-pubescents to teens, who have been sold to the brothels are are held there as slaves. Some are sold by family members to work off a family debt, others have no where else to go and become indebted to the brothel for their food and housing. Brothels use so many children because they are cheaper to feed than adults, are less likely to run away, and are more easily financially exploited. But a brothel full of 11-year-olds will draw police attention, even in Bangladesh. What's a madam to do?
Enter, Oradexon. The Oradexon family of drugs was originally developed by farmers and the livestock industry to force cattle to produce more fleshy tissue that would sell for more money on the market. In Bangladesh, the drug is cheap and widely available. So some bright brothel owner had the idea: if it makes cattle bigger, why not the kids I enslave in my brothel. Could it make them look more like adults?
Turns out Oradexon is a pimp's dream come true. Not only will it force a pre-pubescent child to grow breasts and hips before her body is ready to, but Oradexon is highly, highly addictive for humans. Once hooked, getting off the drug sends users into painful withdrawal, including headaches, stomach pain, whole-body skin rashes. Not an appealing prospect for someone who relies on her body to make enough money to survive. So when pimps and brothel owners force kids to take Oradexon, not only do they make it harder for police to identify children in the brothels, they also increase the girls' dependency on them.
Used in proper doses under a physician's care, Oradexon can effectively treat a variety of ailments in humans. But the way it is taken by the girls in Bangladesh's brothels -- to force puberty to come, to enlarge breasts, or to make girls look "meatier" for their clients -- causes a host of serious health problems. Long-term use of it impairs the kidneys, increases the blood pressure, interferes with normal hormone production, and causes widespread swelling throughout the body. Girls that have been on the drug for several years often have painful lumps in their legs and mid-sections.
Spending your teen years in a brothel is a dangerous enough activity for a child, between the threat of violence, STDs, and inability to attend school. The idea that these girls are now forced to take dangerous drugs to hide their true ages is adding injury to injury. The government of Bangladesh needs to seriously investigate the ways Oradexon and related drugs are being used and take steps to prevent them from being forced on young girls enslaved in brothels. Because the comments about human beings being treated like cattle are, in this case, far too easy to make.