LAHORE - Three young women along with their families migrated to Lahore from a small town located in Sahiwal district almost 14 years ago. The purpose of relocation was better future for their children and the city was the best option.

Shiza (not her real name), a middle-age woman now, was one of them. She took a one-room house on rent near Saidpur bus stop on Multan Road, a low-income neighbourhood housing mostly film studios, artists, and stage dancers.

Shiza willingly jumped into the prostitution business to materialise her dreams. She spent days and nights in the business, developing contacts, and collecting money by entertaining her clients.

Now, she owns a six-marla double story house in Sabzazar neighbourhood. Her children enjoy the luxuries of life. They use latest mobile phones and iPads while taking rest in air-conditioned rooms. Each room has one latest LED-TV installed.

However, Shiza doesn’t attend every call on her cell phone these days. She has only a handful of clients, wealthy and influential though.

During a meeting facilitated by a private source last week. Shiza shared her experiences and memories with The Nation. “Clients really matter in the prostitution business. To become rich, one should have filthy rich and powerful clients,” she said. “I did all this for my children, to provide them healthy food, better schooling, and beautiful dresses.”

She said her first dream came true when after ten years of struggle she bought the house for her family amid skyrocketing property prices in the metropolis.

Some four years ago, she had bought the house for three million rupees where she has been living along with her three young children and husband.

Millions of people are homeless in the city where the real estate rates surged dramatically during the last two decades. The property boom also caused considerable hike in the rates of rented accommodations.

Her friends Nazi and Sony (not real names) also live in their own homes in the posh areas of the metropolis nowadays. They are also enjoying what she said “wonderful life” along with their families. The three friends meet occasionally and “work” separately.

Nazi is living in Iqbal Town with her second husband after the death of her young daughter six years ago. Her teenage daughter was found murdered packed in a sack from the federal capital where she had been employed as a sex worker. The autopsy report revealed the girl was gang raped repeatedly and brutally. The killers were arrested but released after the victim family had accepted blood money.

According to Shiza, young girls are brutally tortured in the prostitution centers. The prostitutes are paid only one third of the amount as the pimps collect the money from the clients directly. “If a girl is sent for one night at Rs 8000 it means that the she will be given only Rs3,000.”

Shiza recalls her memories and says the prostitution dens are in fact “hell” for the poor girls and women. She was raped twice by some influential men but she never complained to the police to avoid cross-questioning. “This is a very difficult field where you are always at risk,” Shiza said with a gloomy look.

“I feel guilty when I look at my past. But when I see my kids living happily, I get relaxed,” she said. “If I am born again I will prefer a peaceful life rather than a colourful life,” she said with a smiling face.

Shiza says she loves her husband more than anything else since he is father of her children. “My husband works at a private company and gets salary less than Rs15,000. I had to work as an entertainer to share his burden.”

To a question she said, her husband never tortured her. “I think he knows about my ‘activities’ but he never objected. However, when he drinks (alcohol) he speaks loudly but I manage to keep him cool,” she said.

Prostitution is regarded as taboo or a stigma in Pakistan’s Muslim-majority society but the practice exists everywhere like an open secret. Most of the prostitutes who work in the metropolis appeared to be married women. Some end up in brothels or prostitution dens after being divorced from their ex-lovers. The others have to do this business to feed their poor parents or families.

Asma says she had to join a prostitution center in Lahore’s Baghbanpura area after her marriage collapsed. “I had to sleep with two men who helped me get divorce. My ex-husband was a mature man but I was a teenage girl when we had married. I got divorce to flee domestic violence,” she said.

She lives with her blind mother and a young sister (a special child) somewhere in Baghbanpura. Like Shiza, she became sex worker to feed her family. The 30-year-old healthy and nice-looking lady said she could not get any job since she was not educated.

Since prostitution is a stigma in this society, the sex workers have no rights to claim. They are abused, raped, robbed, and brutalized by police or sometime by their drunken clients but they cannot file a complaint at any forum. In case, a prostitute is murdered by someone, the police report the case on the complaint of her family members. The suspects are often freed as a result of ‘settlement’ between the parties.

According to police, most of the women join the prostitution business willingly, and they operate dens in rented accommodations. Sometime, after the arrest they are released after paying a minimal fine.

Under the Pakistan Penal Code, selling or a buying a person for purposes of prostitution shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to 25 years, and shall also be liable to fine.

City police last week raided a hotel on Bund Road and arrested five women and ten men. As per FIR, they also seized “power pills” from different rooms of the hotel. All the five women were kept in the lock-up of the male police station for one night. They were produced before the court next morning and later released on bail. Hence, the case was disposed of.

Prostitutes blame police for harassing their clients, apart from being abused themselves by the lusty cops.

Beenat runs a brothel in a rented house in Rehmanpura. She says that they have to relocate after months because of frequent raids. “We are often robbed of our cash and belongings during the police raids. Policemen also abuse my girls and clients.

“They (police) treat us like terrorists,” she added.

Thousands of prostitution centers are operating in Lahore, a metropolis internationally recognised as a liberal city where many people can spend thousands of rupees for one night stand. Apart from locals, many foreign nationals including Chinese are employed as sex workers at various dens operating in the posh localities.

Sexual relations between two consenting adults were not a crime in Pakistan before 1979. Only the involvement of minors in prostitution was prohibited by law. Later the Zina Ordinance was enacted and extramarital sex became a criminal offence. Thousands of prostitutes were allowed to relocate towards residential areas after the red-light areas (Heera Mani) were disbanded during the era of former dictator Gen Zia-ul-Haq. This is how the ‘business’ spread like plague in the big cities. And now it has become uncontrollable.