An estimated 108,037 mostly Rohingya children have been born in confinement in Bangladesh and Myanmar over the past several years, new analysis by Save the Children has found. They are living in conditions not suitable for children, with limited access to education and healthcare, no freedom of movement, and almost entirely dependent on aid.
To mark three years since more than 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar in the wake of brutal violence which the UN has described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” Save the Children analyzed population data from the refugee camps in Bangladesh (since August 2017) and the displacement camps in Myanmar’s Rakhine State (since 2012).
Using UNHCR data from Cox’s Bazar up until May 31, 2020, the children’s aid agency found there are currently an estimated 75,971 children under three years in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar—or nine percent of the total refugee population. The implication is that almost all of them were born after their mothers fled to Bangladesh.
Three-year-old Runa* came into this world during her mother’s grueling journey across the Myanmar-Bangladesh border as they fled for their lives. Runa* suffers from chronic undernutrition. “I’m worried about my children’s education, their future, their behavior,” Runa’s mother Hamida* told Save the Children. “I can’t give them whatever they ask for as we don’t have money. We can’t fulfill their dreams. We can’t love and take care of them properly. That’s why I feel very sad. I can’t provide them with good food. When they ask for anything, I can’t give it to them.”
In Myanmar, displacement camps in central Rakhine have been housing Rohingya Muslims as well as Kaman Muslims since 2012, due to previous waves of ethnic violence. Looking at UNHCR data from Myanmar up to December 2019, Save the Children estimates there are 32,066 children under seven years of age spread across 21 camps, representing over 25 percent of the displaced population.
Khadija* has seven children, two of whom were born after she was forced into a camp for internally displaced people following ethnic violence between the Rohingya and Rakhine communities in 2012. “I have children I need to look after. I need to feed them, send them to school, so I need to manage somehow,” she told Save the Children. “We suffered a lot after we came here. We couldn’t eat, sleep, or provide medicine to our children. They burned houses and burned some people alive in the market. We didn’t expect to escape alive with our children.”
Onno van Manen, Bangladesh Country Director for Save the Children, said:
“Over the past three years, more than 75,000 children have been born in the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar. The birth of a child is a joyous occasion, but these children have drawn the short straw, born into a life where their families can’t work, where they have limited access to education and healthcare, and no freedom of movement.
“We teach our children to dream big, but for a child who knows nothing but a refugee camp, many of their hopes and dreams will seem out of reach. The people and government of Bangladesh welcomed the refugees when they fled violence in their home country, but three years on we are no closer to a sustainable solution to this refugee crisis.
“Rohingya children and families must be able to return to their homes in Myanmar voluntarily and in a safe and dignified manner. World leaders—particularly those with close ties to Myanmar—must do everything they can to encourage a swift resolution to this crisis. We can’t allow the years to pile up and for children to spend their entire childhoods in confinement.”
Mark Pierce, Myanmar, Sri Lanka & Thailand (MST) Director for Save the Children, said:
“More than 30,000 children in the Rakhine camps have known no other life, no opportunity to explore the world outside or visit their towns and villages.
“No child should be born in a confined camp, separated from other children because they happen to belong to other ethnic or religious communities. We must avoid the harmful consequences of an entire generation of children growing up in enforced segregation, which only further divides communities.
“Nearly three decades after Myanmar ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and pledged to protect children at all costs, it needs to make good on its promise to guarantee the rights of all children. Long-lasting solutions as laid out by the Rakhine Advisory Committee urgently need to be implemented to ensure freedom of movement, citizenship, and other fundamental rights for Rohingya children and their families.”
*Name changed to protect identity