The arrest of four Australian men bound for Bangladesh allegedly carrying a large quantity of steroids last week has highlighted concerns about the plight of sex workers in Bangladesh who are often coerced into using the drugs.
International poverty agency ActionAid says the steroid Oradexon, which is intended for use in the cattle industry to fatten cows, is widely used in Bangladesh’s sex industry.
The Executive Director of ActionAid Australia, Archie Law, told Radio Australia’s Connect Asia program that brothel owners often coerce sex workers into taking the drug.
“It makes women put on weight, it makes them look plumper and that’s what men who are using the services of sex workers prefer,” he said.
Mr Law says it also makes underage girls look older.
“It can make a 12-year-old look like they’re 15 or 16 and again that makes them a more attractive proposition to a male,” he said.
But the steroid Oradexon has severe side effects including diabetes, high blood pressure, skin rashes, headaches and kidney failure.
It’s also addictive.
In 2010, ActionAid Bangladesh launched a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of the drug and help women who are addicted to it.
Mr Law says they are also pushing for authorities in Bangladesh to regulate the drug.
“It’s a legal substance for what it’s meant to be used for as far as fattening up cows,” he said. “So what we’re asking is that the government of Bangladesh does regulate the use of this drug.”
Mr Law hopes these latest arrests draw attention to the problem and encourage authorities to act.
“If anything comes out of this appalling case, it’s an increased awareness of the catastrophe that looms in the lives of sex workers in Bangladesh as a result of the use of this cow steroid,” he said.
Mr Law says the arrests of the four Australian men raises questions about where the supply of steroids are coming from.
“There’s obviously the legal perspective of what can be taken out of the country but there’s also the moral and the ethical issues that need to be confronted by Australia as well as far as the destination of this drug and what it’s being used for.”