Rohingya Muslims wait for their turn to collect relief at the Thankhali refugee camp in Teknaf, Bangladesh, Sunday. Picture: AP Photo/A.M. Ahad
Rohingya Muslims wait for their turn to collect relief at the Thankhali refugee camp in Teknaf, Bangladesh, Sunday. Picture: AP Photo/A.M. Ahad

Rohingya children forced to work, beaten and sexually assaulted - IOM

By Tom Allard And Tommy Wilkes Time of article published Nov 13, 2017

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Cox's Bazar/Kutupalong -

Rohingya refugee children from Myanmar are working punishing

hours for paltry pay in Bangladesh, with some suffering beatings

and sexual assault, the International Organisation for Migration

(IOM) has found.

Independent reporting by Reuters corroborated some of the

findings.

The results of a probe by the IOM into exploitation and

trafficking in Bangladesh's refugee camps, which Reuters

reviewed on an exclusive basis, also documented accounts of

Rohingya girls as young as 11 getting married, and parents

saying the unions would provide protection and economic

advancement.

About 450 000 children, or 55 percent of the refugee

population, live in teeming settlements near the border with

Myanmar after fleeing the destruction of villages and alleged

murder, looting and rape by security forces and Buddhist mobs.

Afjurul Hoque Tutul, additional superintendent of police in

Cox's Bazar, near where the camps are based, said 11 checkpoints

had been set up that would help prevent children from leaving.

"If any Rohingya child is found working, then the owners

will be punished," he said.

Most of the refugees have arrived in the past two and a half

months after attacks on about 30 security posts by Rohingya

rebels met a ferocious response from Myanmar's military.

Described by the United Nations human rights commissioner

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein as a "textbook example of ethnic

cleansing", Myanmar's government counters that its actions are a

proportionate response to attacks by Rohingya "terrorists".

The IOM's findings, based on discussions with groups of

long-term residents and recent arrivals, and separate interviews

by Reuters, show life in the refugee camps is hardly better than

it is in Myanmar for Rohingya children.

The IOM said children were targeted by labour agents and

encouraged to work by their destitute parents amid widespread

malnutrition and poverty in the camps. Education opportunities

are limited for children beyond Grade 3.

Rohingya boys and girls as young as seven years old were

confirmed working outside the settlements, according to the

findings.

Boys work on farms, construction sites and fishing boats, as

well as in tea shops and as rickshaw drivers, the IOM and

Rohingya residents in the camp reported.

Girls typically work as maids and nannies for Bangladeshi

families, either in the nearby resort town of Cox's Bazar or in

Chittagong, Bangladesh's second-largest city, about 150 km (100

miles) from the camps.

One Rohingya parent, who asked not to be identified because

she feared reprisals, told Reuters her 14-year-old daughter had

been working in Chittagong as a maid but fled her employers.

When she returned to the camp, she was unable to walk, her

mother said, adding that her daughter's Bangladeshi employers

had physically and sexually assaulted her.

"The husband was an alcoholic and he would come to her

bedroom at night and rape her. He did it six or seven times,"

the mother said. "They gave us no money. Nothing."

The account could not be independently verified by Reuters

but was similar to others recorded by the IOM.

Most interviewees said female Rohingya refugees "experienced

sexual harassment, rape and being forced to marry the person who

raped her", the IOM said.

PAID A PITTANCE, IF AT ALL

Across Bangladesh's refugee settlements, Reuters saw

children wandering muddy lanes alone and aimlessly, or sitting

listlessly outside tents. Many children begged along roadsides.

The Inter Sector Coordination Group, which oversees UN

agencies and charities, said this month it had documented 2 462

unaccompanied and separated children in the camps. The actual

number was "likely to be far higher", it said.

A preliminary survey by the UNHCR and Bangladesh's Refugee

Relief and Repatriation Commission has found that 5 percent of

households - or 3 576 families - were headed by a child.

Reuters interviewed seven families who sent their children

to work. All reported terrible working conditions, low wages or

abuse.

Muhammad Zubair, dressed in a dirty football shirt, his

small stature belying his stated age of 12 years old, said he

was offered 250 taka (about R43) per day but ended up with only 500 taka

(R86) for 38 days work building roads. His mother said he was 14

years old.

"It was hard work, laying bricks on the road," he said,

squatting in the doorway of his mud hut in the Kutupalong camp. 

He said he was verbally abused by his employers when he asked

for more money and was told to leave. He declined to provide

their identities.

Zubair then took a job in a tea shop for a month, putting in

two shifts per day from 6am to past midnight, broken by a

four-hour rest period in the afternoon.

He said he wasn't allowed to leave the shop and was only

permitted to speak to his parents by phone once.

"When I wasn't paid, I escaped," he said. "I was frightened

because I thought the owner, the master, would come here with

other people and take me again."

FORCED MARRIAGE

Many parents also pressure their daughters to marry early,

for protection and for financial stability, according to the IOM

findings. Some child brides are as young as 11, the IOM said.

But many women only became "second wives," the IOM said.

Second wives are frequently divorced quickly and "abandoned

without any further economic support".

Kateryna Ardanyan, an IOM anti-trafficking specialist, said

exploitation had become "normalised" in the camps.

"Human traffickers usually adapt faster to the situation

than any other response mechanism can. It's very important we

try to do prevention." Ardanyan said.

"Funding dedicated to protecting Rohingya men, women and

children from exploitation and abuse is urgently needed."

Reuters

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