Prostitution in the land of the pure

Published: November 19, 2011

Oil painting of a prostitute from Lahore's Red Light District, by Iqbal Hussain

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 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. 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 KP 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.


Aneka Chohan

The author is a freelance journalist and human rights activist. She tweets as @anekachohan (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Blah

    I know some of you are going to hate my views but as long as KP is attached with Pakistan, this country will NEVER prosper. It is as simple as that. Keep KP or keep Pakistan, there can be only one way and we need to do that math here.Recommend

  • Farhan


    as a general rule of making arguments, you cannot just make them up and puke without any logic. In intellectual thesis, the arguments are supported through logical expressions like “I feel so because of this “. The “I feel so” part is important yet the whole argument is evaluated by the audience through the part that comes after “because”. It looks like your argument is without substantiation……..which means that your argument was flawed when evaluated in terms of intellectual capacity…….you cannot just say “I feel that the sky will be better off without sun” and then go to bed…when you make the world fall apart by saying things as strong as this, you are generally expected to state the “why” part. As far as KP province is concerned, I feel out of all the provinces KP is the most important porvince of of Pakistan because of two reasons…KP province has some of the most hard working people in the nation. The people from this province not only go all across Pakistan to find work, and earn respecytable earnings but also come from some of the richest cultures in the country. The second reason that makes KP province the most important is the strategic one. One of the major river i.e. River Indus flows through that region. This river contributes to the irrigation system of Pakistan, one of the largest in the world.Recommend

  • Hiba

    I am so Speechless … can’t even imagine all of this … this is sad =(Recommend

  • Mahwish

    @CB Guy:

  • Neutron

    Dear Respected Author,
    I am really pleased with the content and the way you have actually included all the fact and figures in your article. It has a been a while since people started to study articles like this, start believing and spreading the associated words, however, most of the people fail to refer to the real stats and figures in the articles. Everything that has a credible source is much more appreciated. You article is beautifully narrated and perfect considering the topic’s demand but blaming the armed forces, police, relatives and respectable professions like teaching is not a smart choice. A blog can be made of anything. I’d strongly recommend you to include the true references and authentic resources amplifying your article’s worth.
    A Responsible Citizen :)

  • Aisha

    Government huh!! themselvs are big clients… corrupt people are ruling… secondly police department is like a dogs tail which can never be straightened, they are the biggest criminals, also it is proved in karachi news of bank robbery etc that police was mostly involved themselves……. these lozers should be given a poisened kit-kat to take a break. and there should be no police instead of having this kind of people…..Recommend

  • Anon

    And it’s because of people like you that tragic situations like this will always exist. I personally know three boys in Pakistan who molested and raped by Maulvi’s and one by a random man. Stop living in this shadow of ignorance.Recommend

  • Sh. Muneeb

    References for the surveys discussed in this article should have been provided. I do not buy these figures. Recommend

  • NaiveCitizen

    Shocking and disgusting. But then again ‘why Allah why’.Why did God create us, if so many of us were going to be child-molesting monster??Recommend

  • Zaima

    I am from the UK but what i want to know is why cant these university students start a “say no to sex/rape” campaign.Pakistanis in Britian are overly conservative as well…. its ignorance mainly…. i am ssooooooo ashamed to call myself BRITISH PAKISTANI because two thirds of rape/sex gangs are Pakistani Muslim men whilst 1 third are white men. I want everyone to read this article….

    And the worse thing is they interviewed the father of the 2 brothers who raped 13 yr old girls and he said “oh one looked 16 all the evidence shows she was older” and “they wore mini skirts” ….. in reality NONE of the victims wore miniskirts or skimpy outfits and ofcourse they werent virgins if they got raped by 10 men. Pakistanis r in denial.Recommend

  • Umair Waheed Sheikh, Khayban e Hafiz,Karachi

    Well its the oldest profession in the world so I am all for it.Recommend

  • GlobalNomad

    @Cynical: I think they are all Americans behind this whole business!!!Recommend

  • SAC

    What is the authenticity of these statistics??? Just because some NGO’s of western origin or for that matter UNICEF says so doesn’t necessarily mean ACCURACY. After all these bodies work from their posh offices in Islamabad and their reach and depth in population at grass root level is obviously not that elaborate.

    Generally these studies are based on “Sample Surveys” and you can easily get the “desired” results by choosing the “Sample” “Carefully”. A third of KP’s male population is homosexual, is unbelievable and simply not true. So while I agree with the writer’s argument, I would suggest use of common sense in dicephering information from shady statsitics. Better still, conduct your own study.Recommend

  • rikky

    Land of Pure??Recommend

  • nouman

    over all you did a good job. but i think it is a part of all the socities i read a short story writen by ghulam abbas in that story he wrote that cities are developed because of these so called taboo Recommend

  • nouman

    i think you are right but the fact is we cant do any thing Recommend

  • nouman

    yes you are writeRecommend

  • nouman

    i think we must think about thisRecommend

  • Zafar Ahmed

    If you have ‘investigated’ throughly then please share the report otherwise don’t assume things based on religious prejudice. Recommend

  • Mr. Infidel

    If no one focuses on, let alone shames or prosecutes, the Johns, it will continue. Prostitutes need customers. Recommend

  • Kimberly

    I would like to recommend the book, “The Dancing Girls of Lahore” to anyone who would like to know more about prostitution in Pakistan. This book is written by a woman who spent years living with the prostitutes of Heera Mandi. It is very interesting, and very sad to read. Prostitution is a family business. The children of prostitutes basically have no other choice but to follow in the footsteps and become prostitutes themselves, generation after generation. It is very similar to how most Christian families end up a sweepers, generation after generation, with basically no chance of entering a different career.

    To the person who said all these prostitutes are Jews and Christians, you are wrong. Most of the prostitutes in Heera Mandi are Shia muslims, and despite selling sex, they take their religion very seriously. Recommend

  • Mr. Holland

    Prostitution, the most oldest profession throughout history of human beings. Why shouldn’t we put a check n balance instead stop on prostitution ?
    Though you had mention a fascinating point of presenting prostitution as lazy labour, but I see other way as a service of sex-needy humans ( say widowed, divorced, n elders ).
    I m ready to give you an spicy lecture on need of prostitution, if you like. :P Recommend

  • Awkay

    Very sad an horrifying indeed


    159/239 X 100 = almost 70%; not sure if 70% children in Pakistan have been involved in commercial sex. there is some thing seriously wrong with the sample data here. Recommend

  • noman

    this is very serious topic.well wrote on it.serious steps and practical effort is need to overcome it.Recommend

  • Zohaib Khan

    74% of them were University graduates…. at least copy paste correctly, it 74% of them were undergraduates.Recommend

  • Abdul Rafay

    IM sorry, but u(the author) seem to be particularly keen about the “dirty” picture in ur work. Opinions reserved, this may be ur field to work. However, I beg to differ with the stats. And the surveys I can tell you are not as promising either in terms of credibility.

    I’m not saying this doesn’t happen, and I know turning a deaf ear would be so ignorant but the fact is theres notthing u can do if ppl are sick just let in be.

    nice use of glossary there bachabaze and pimps LOLRecommend

  • Khaqan J.

    Not bad. No offense to anyone here or the author but, prostitution is not a disease instead a part of society since forever. I’m not going to quote dates or anything from Wikipedia. Legalize the trade? Hahaha. Who will do that? & how does one plan on eradicating the menace or disease as most people have stated?
    From the laborer to the President, everyone is involved the hiring pleasure for the day, night, week, month.
    If some of you had no idea; the local police or other agencies are NOT allowed to even so much as to ‘pick up’ a pimp or one of his/her workers.
    The educated class being a part of this?
    Has been so since a long time. Not until someone musters up the courage to bring a problem of our society to the public, does anyone agree with the person. How odd a society we are.
    I used to run a private charity once & we took it upon us to curb this problem…
    I don’t run the charity anymore… Hope that answers any questions which might arise along the lines of curbing the problem. Maybe it were my contacts which prevented me from being 6′ under or God’s will. Not that people wouldn’t have wanted it the other way around.
    Good work as a writer, most commendable, of that there is no doubt. Figures are much higher & this can not be stopped. One out of 3 men & women are a part of this business.Recommend

  • Katarina

    I think you have to make a difference between sexual abuse of children and then prostitution. Sexual abuse of children should always be a serious crime. Then regarding prostitition, in the Nordic countries it is kind of legal but trafficking, pimping etc is a crime. It is not an easy issue, if it is criminal the sex workers has to do it behind the scenes and that is risky for them.

    That it is of course clear that prostitution exist anywhere. Recommend