Traumatic Experiences Shadow Young Rohingya Girls Lives from Home to Refugee Camps and Sea Journeys in Hopes to Find a Better Life

A 12-year-old Rohingya refugee girl was raped, tortured, and threatened, leading to her fleeing to Bangladesh, where the government's efforts to combat trafficking have been limited.

Traumatic Experiences Shadow Young Rohingya Girls Lives from Home to Refugee Camps and Sea Journeys in Hopes to Find a Better Life
Photo Source: Dire conditions at a refugee camp, by Alex Vasey, via UnSplash, 2022/November 16th.

11-06-2024

Pauliina Majasaari

East Asia Researcher,

Global Human Rights Defence.

 

A 12-year-old Rohingya refugee girl from Myanmar was raped, tortured, beaten and threatened with death in case of disobedience by the crew of a refugee boat which was making its way from a Bangladesh refugee camp to Indonesia. According to the survivors, the crew of the fishing boat purposely capsized the boat due to the girls’ refusal to join the crew in their bedroom, thereby placing their lives at grave risk.

Seeing their houses set on fire, their family members killed and receiving threats from the Myanmar military within the conflict, the Rohingya are forced to flee their homes and find refuge in bordering countries’ refugee camps, such as in Bangladesh. As a result of the dire conditions in the overcrowded refugee camps, thousands of Rohingya refugees take on a dangerous sea journey, being aware of the risks to their life and further trauma, from Bangladesh to Indonesia and Malaysia, which is the preferred destination as a Muslim-majority country. However, at the hands of human traffickers and smugglers, women and children are particularly vulnerable to severe physical and sexual abuse, exploitation, torture, and death at the refugee camps as well as at sea journeys. Holding the status of stateless Rohingya minority girls leaves them vulnerable to abuse and violations of their human rights, which in turn affects their physical and psychological development due to the trauma they faced. Furthermore, it is common practice for underaged Rohingya girls to be promised as child brides to Malaysian men, often due to the desperation of parents who are unable to feed their children. The husband will often promise to provide the family left behind in refugee camps with money in exchange. In addition, human traffickers prey on the Rohingya children residing in the refugee camps, and seek to recruit young girls as maids, from where they might be forced into prostitution, labour and forced marriage.

According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), article 34 obliges State parties to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. More specifically, State parties should take all appropriate measures to prevent the coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity and the exploitative use of children in prostitution, amongst other matters. Additionally, under article 35 of the CRC, State parties should take all appropriate measures to prevent the trafficking of children for any purpose or in any form. In line with article 39 of the CRC, State parties should take all measures to promote the physical and psychological recovery and social integration of a child victim of exploitation, abuse or torture amongst others.

Evidently, Bangladesh is not protecting the Rohingya children as obliged under article 34 and is  insufficiently addressing the sexual exploitation, sexual abuse and human trafficking of children. The issue is still very prominent, as from March 2019 to March 2020, 15,000 trafficking incidents were reported. Additionally, sex worker networks are present within the refugee camps, and many young girls who have been separated from their families are lured to sex work by the hustlers and commonly the hustlers and army personnel work together to be able to smuggle the Rohingya girls into the city to conduct sex work. As such, the government of Bangladesh has tried to take measures to combat trafficking within its territory, however with insufficient results. It is not abiding by the obligations under article 35 of the CRC as the criminal enforcement of human traffickers’ conduct has been limited, mostly sentencing fines rather than jail time, which in turn has weakened the deterrence towards human trafficking. Similarly Bangladesh seems to be acting contrary to article 39 of the CRC as the authorities have been inconsistent in identifying victims, sometimes confusing human trafficking with migrant smuggling, leading to the decrease of human trafficking victims being identified and providing support for their recovery. Fortunately, humanitarian aid organisations and international aid groups have been pursuing efforts to reunite children with their parents and bring them to school to ensure the children are in safe environments, instead of running around the refugee camps where they are most susceptible to human traffickers.

 

Consequently, the Association of Southeast Asia Nations, regional governments, international institutions and other members of the international community are asked to urgently address and resolve the atrocities taking place within the refugee camps and dangerous sea journeys. As such, the pertinent countries should address and prosecute the human traffickers’ violent and abusive conduct inflicted upon the Rohingya victims, rather than overlooking the atrocities taking place. Furthermore, Myanmar is urged by various international actors to stop the persecution and oppression of the Rohingya minority and thereby protect the Rohingya children from subsequent harm faced on their journey to survival and in hopes of finding a better life for themselves, thereby respecting the children’s rights under the CRC.

 

 

 

Sources and further readings:

 

Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted 20 November 1989, entered into force 2 September 1990) 1577 UNTS 3 (CRC).

 

Edna Tarigan and Kristen Gelineau, ‘“They tortured us”: Rohingya survivors of fatal capsize say captain raped girls, purposely sank boat’ AP News (8 May 2024) <https://apnews.com/article/rohingya-migration-boat-refugees-indonesia-bangladesh-myanmar-1d2ad5595a5240ea4d2c35e26ddf9394> accessed 10 June 2024.

 

 Katie Arnold, ‘Traffickers are Preying on Rohingya Children in Bangladesh Camps’ Global Citizen (8 November 2017) <https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/rohingya-children-trafficking-sex-violence/> accessed 10 June 2024.

 

Kristen Gelineau, ‘’I feel trapped’: Scores of underaged Rohingya forced into abusive marriages in Malaysia’ AP News(13 December 2023) <https://apnews.com/article/rohingya-refugees-bangladesh-myanmar-malaysia-migration-f481e725f97d1b004a474e5facb10144> accessed 10 June 2024.

 

Mitra Samira Suryono, ‘Rohingya refugees risk dangerous sea route to Indonesia in search of safety and freedom’ UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency (25 April 2024) <https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/rohingya-refugees-risk-dangerous-sea-route-indonesia-search-safety-and-freedom> accessed 10 June 2024.

 

Nazmun Naher Shishir, ‘Human traffickers prey on Rohingya refugees’ Dialogue Earth (2 February 2021) <https://dialogue.earth/en/justice/human-traffickers-prey-on-rohingya-refugees/> accessed 11 June 2024.

 

Refugees International and Women’s Peace Network, ‘The Situation of the Rohingya and Deadly Sea Crossings’ Refugees International (1 March 2023) <https://www.refugeesinternational.org/advocacy-letters/the-situation-of-the-rohingya-and-deadly-sea-crossings/> accessed 10 June 2024.

 

Yu Kojima, ‘Rohingya Refugee and Migrant Women Shadowed by Sexual and Gender-based Violence’ Our World (27 November 2015) <https://ourworld.unu.edu/en/rohingya-refugee-and-migrant-women-shadowed-by-sexual-and-gender-based-violence> accessed 10 June 2024.

 

‘2023 Trafficking in Persons Report: Bangladesh’ U.S. Department of State (2023) <https://www.state.gov/reports/2023-trafficking-in-persons-report/bangladesh/> accessed 11 June 2024.