Alarming Number of Rohingya Children Orphaned by Brutal Violence – Save the Children Study

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (August 22, 2018) – One in two Rohingya children who fled to Bangladesh without their parents were orphaned by brutal violence, new research by Save the Children suggests ahead of the one-year anniversary of the crisis on Saturday, August 25.

There are currently more than 6,000 unaccompanied and separated Rohingya children living in Cox’s Bazar, where they face crippling food shortages and are at increased risk of exploitation and abuse. Child protection workers in the area’s camps had previously thought an overwhelming majority of these children had simply lost contact with parents or caregivers in the chaos of their journey to Bangladesh—but the research suggests otherwise.

Save the Children’s study, involving 139 unaccompanied and separated Rohingya children, is the largest of its type in Cox’s Bazar since the brutal military crackdown in Myanmar a year ago.

Preliminary findings from the research show:

  • Seventy percent of children covered by the study were separated from parents or main caregivers by violent attacks; 63 percent of all children in the study were separated during a direct assault on their village, and 9 percent as their family attempted to flee to Bangladesh. 
  • Half (50 percent) said their parents or main caregivers had been killed in the attacks, leaving them orphaned, with many describing eyewitness scenes of brutal violence.

Save the Children is calling for the perpetrators of these systematic, ruthless and deliberate attacks in Myanmar to be held accountable under international law for their crimes, and for all countries to support initiatives at the UN to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Save the Children’s Country Director in Bangladesh, Mark Pierce, said:
“Twelve months ago, our teams saw children arriving in Bangladesh on their own, so distressed, hungry and exhausted they couldn’t speak. We set up spaces for these children to receive 24-hour support while we searched for their families. One year later, it is clear that for many, this reunification will never take place.

“These children are some of the most vulnerable on the planet, and they have had to carve out an entirely new existence in the camps, without their mother or father, in an environment where they are far more vulnerable to risks like trafficking, early marriage and other forms of exploitation.

“While our data can’t claim to be representative of all orphaned and separated refugee children in Cox’s Bazar, it paints a frightening picture of a bloody conflict where civilians were targeted and killed in large numbers.

“To ensure aid agencies can continue providing vital support to these children, donors need to fully fund the $950 million Joint Response Plan for 2018, currently just a third funded. We also need to ensure that Rohingya refugee children have access to safe, quality and inclusive learning opportunities while they are displaced, as well as targeted mental health support for the most distressed.”

Save the Children has reached more than 350,000 Rohingya children in Cox’s Bazar in the past 12 months, including a large majority of those who have been orphaned or separated from their parents.

The aid agency has done this by setting up nearly 100 child and girl friendly spaces, which provide nearly 40,000 children with a safe space to play, recover and be children again, as well as through programs providing protection, access to education, health and nutrition, food and water and sanitation services.

Among those it supports is 17-year-old Humaira*, who fled to Bangladesh with neighbors from her village after her parents were killed in front of her during the August 2017 attacks.

Her case worker, Rashna Sharmin Keya, said it took her a month, and sessions with a counsellor, before she was able to share her story.

After months of searching, she was finally reunited with her two younger brothers. They now live together, with the responsibility of leading the household resting on Humaira’s shoulders.

“When I first met her, she didn’t talk so much. There was fear in her heart and she didn’t trust anyone,” Keya said.

“She was crying and told me: ‘Everyone died. My whole family was killed in Myanmar. I saw them, I know everyone died. No one is there’.”

Save the Children’s Country Director in Myanmar, Michael McGrath, said:
“It has been a year since these children had their childhoods ripped away. The world has failed to hold the perpetrators of these barbaric attacks, including the Myanmar military, to account.

“Extraordinary crimes demand an extraordinary response. A credible, impartial, and independent investigation into these crimes and all violations of children’s rights committed in northern Rakhine State is a key first step towards ensuring accountability.

“The international community must step up and find a long-lasting solution to the crisis that allows for the safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees, which respects the basic rights of children and their families and is underpinned by international law.”

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NOTES TO EDITORS:

  • Save the Children’s research involved interviews with 139 unaccompanied and separated children (UASC). While the figures presented here are not statistically representative, these children were randomly selected from Save the Children’s caseload of UASC. It is therefore likely that the experiences of these children mirror that of other unaccompanied and separated children in the camp. In general, it is very challenging to do statistically representative research with such a vulnerable group of children in an environment like refugee camps, on such a distressing topic, and with such a large population of children. 
  • The preliminary results of the research found that: 
    • Of the 139 children, 99 were separated from their primary caregiver as a result of an attack in Myanmar; of these, the vast majority said these attacks had taken place in their village (87), and the remainder said they had taken place in transit to Bangladesh (12). 
    • Of the 99 children that have been separated from their primary caregiver as a result of an attack, 70 children said their parents or care givers had been killed – with 59 of these saying the killing had happened in attacks on their villages and the remaining 11 during attacks while they were in transit. 
  • The full assessment results will be released in the coming weeks. 
  • There are at least 6,013 unaccompanied or separated Rohingya children in Bangladesh, according to the Inter Sector Coordination Group’s August 2 sitrep
  • Since August 25, 2017, over 700,000 Rohingya have arrived in Cox’s Bazar, including at least 370,000 children, following a brutal military crackdown after Myanmar police border posts were attacked. Over a two-month period at the end of last year, the refugee population in Cox’s Bazar more than quadrupled.

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