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China, the most populous country and the second-largest economy in the world, is a vast, dynamic nation that continues to grow and evolve in the 21st century. In this, the latest entry in a semi-regular series on China, we find images of tremendous variety, including astronauts, nomadic herders, replica European villages, pole dancers, RV enthusiasts, traditional farmers, and inventors. This collection is only a small view of the people and places in China over the past several weeks. [47 photos]

Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut, waves during a departure ceremony at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu province, on June 16, 2012. China sent its first woman taikonaut into outer space this week, prompting a surge of national pride as the rising power takes its latest step towards putting a space station in orbit within the decade. Liu, a 33-year-old fighter pilot, joined two other taikonauts aboard the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft when it lifted off from a remote Gobi Desert launch site. (Reuters/Jason Lee)

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Today is the vernal equinox, the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It also marks the end of "the winter that wasn't," as the past several months in North America have been dubbed. It was the fourth-warmest winter in the United States since record-keeping began 117 years ago. In accord with the unusual weather, this turn of the season brings us snow in Arizona and Saudi Arabia, while conditions remain sunny and warm in America's Northeast and Western Europe. Collected here are scenes from around the world as a strange winter gives way to spring. [40 photos]

The sun sets behind cherry blossoms which have come into full bloom due to the early warm weather in Washington, D.C., on March 19, 2012. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

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World Water Day is observed on March 22 every year. The day to recognize the importance of earth's most precious natural resource was proposed 20 years ago at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. While we often take water for granted, many cannot. And water plays a role in almost everything we do. We drink it, wash in it, play in it, generate power with it, irrigate crops with it, travel and transport goods on it, fight fires with it, and worship with it. Gathered here are images of water from the last year in all its uses, in scarcity and in abundance. -- Lane Turner (48 photos total)
A child bathes from a public tap in his neighborhood in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on March 6, 2012. A UNICEF report says unhygienic conditions cause an estimated 1. 2 million child deaths before the age of five from diarrhea worldwide every year. The report says in urban areas access to improved water and sanitation is not keeping pace with population growth. (Eranga Jayawardena/Associated Press)

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ESSAY CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT

 

 

G.M.B. Akash

The Bitterest Pill – A new danger for child sex workers in Bangladesh

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800 women and girls live and work inside the fortress-like brothel in Faridpur, central Bangladesh. Many of them are underage, and most receive no pay because they are chhukri – bonded workers. That girl as young as 12 should be condemned to a life of sex slavery is bad enough, but they also face a new horror, one that could snuff out any chance of a future they might have had.

The horror is a steroid called Oradexon, a drug identical to one used to fatten cattle for market. The girls are given Oradexon by their madams in order to make them look older and more attractive to prospective clients. One of its side effects is water retention, oedema, which can result in a ‘plump’ look that is considered attractive by some Bangladeshi men.

The drug is highly addictive and has severe long-term health implications, impairing the kidneys, increasing blood pressure and interfering with normal hormone production.

Nodi 15, is one of many girls who use the drug. She says she doesn’t have another name – ‘I’m just Nodi – it means River’ – and she has been in the brothel for two years. Many of the girls here have been sold by their stepmother or even their own mothers – and some are second-generation sex workers, born to a prostitute and an unknown client. ‘I started taking the cow drug a year ago, and I take two tablets a day,’ Nodi says. She thinks it makes her look healthier. ‘The customers like us to look healthy. I got a little plumper when I started taking the drug.’ The existence she describes is a miserable one. ‘How can I be happy here? God knows – there is no happiness here,’ she says.

In a conservative country prostitution is will of fate. No one knows the Story of those faceless girls who may be sold by their boyfriend, husband or parents. No basic right, having no admiration for own self & torture of uncertainty made them unvoiced. Whenever I met those young girls I tried to be one of them. They have no dreams; they only live in reality which is killing them ever.

 

Bio

My journey to the world of photography began long ago. For years I have been travelling widely, covering various social issues faced by the lesser known people, particularly in my country Bangladesh.

My work has been featured in many major international publications including: National Geographic, Vogue, Time, Sunday Times, Newsweek, Geo, Stern, Der Spiegel, The Fader, Brand Ein, The Guardian, Marie Claire, Colors, The Economist, The New Internationalist, Kontinente, Amnesty Journal, Courier International, PDN, Die Zeit, Days Japan, Hello, and Sunday Telegraph of London.

In 2002 I became the first Bangladeshi to be selected for the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass in the Netherlands. In 2004 I have received the Young Reporters Award from the Scope Photo Festival in Paris, again being the first Bangladeshi to receive the honor. In 2006 I was awarded World Press Photo award and released my first book First Light.

 

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G.M.B. Akash

A photojournalist’s blog

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IN THE SHADE
IN THE SHADE: A protester used greenery to shade his face at a march Thursday against President Ali Abdullah Saleh in San’a, Yemen. Gunmen in civilian clothes fired on protesters and tanks shelled neighborhoods, killing at least one person and injuring dozens, according to a medical official. (Yahya Arhab/European Pressphoto Agency)

UNDER THE BRIDGE
UNDER THE BRIDGE: A homeless man stood under the bridge where he lives in a flooded area in central Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

GIVE IT A WHIRL
GIVE IT A WHIRL: Hindus whirled their heads to the beat of drums during the annual Jhiri Fair on the outskirts of Jammu, India, Thursday. (Channi Anand/Associated Press)

FLAG CEREMONY
FLAG CEREMONY: Scoutmaster Tom Birch ran from burning barrels during a flag-retirement ceremony organized by a Boy Scout troop in Naples, Fla., Wednesday. One barrel exploded after lighter fluid was poured in. Firefighters extinguished the flames. Mr. Birch was treated for injuries. (Greg Kahn/Naples Daily News/Associated Press)

YOUNG MONK
YOUNG MONK: A monk walked past the Boudhanath Stupa on the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal, Thursday. The holy Buddhist temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site. (Prakash Mathema/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

HOUSING STRAIN
HOUSING STRAIN: A friend held Brittany Giedraitis, left, of Vernon, Conn., as she cried Thursday outside the Federal Housing Finance Agency in Washington, where people marched to demand more help for homeowners. Ms. Giedraitis says her father would lose his home to foreclosure if it were not for financial help from relatives. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

ROUTE RESTORED
ROUTE RESTORED: Passengers disembarked from the first boat since February to carry travelers from Cyprus to Tripoli, Libya, Thursday. (Youssef Boudlal/Reuters)

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