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Who will protect the Rohingya children?

  • Published at 12:00 am July 21st, 2019
Rohingya Refugees
Rohingyas crossing over to Bangladesh after Rohingya insurgent attacks on Myanmar security forces in August 2017 triggered a sweeping military crackdown Mahmud Hossain Opu /Dhaka Tribune

They are particularly vulnerable to violence and exploitation

Bangladesh is often mentioned as a lighthouse of sustainable development -- women’s empowerment, primary education, child immunization, primary health care in remote villages are all achievements in Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
With each year, the not-so-poor country has added one feather after another in its hat offered by UN development bodies and international development organizations.

Despite the desired achievements, the government believes that more needs to be done. New strategies are developed with the support of international development partners to enable the hard-to-reach population in remote areas, especially in hill districts and haors (wetlands).

Unicef, in its annual report released early July, argues that it encourages the government to monitor child poverty and enact social and economic policies for greater social protection.

The most challenging tasks for Unicef and the government are to ensure education, shelter, basic health care, care for newborn infants and mothers, and child development, especially for the almost million Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh.

Among the Rohingya refugees, almost 60% are children. They have brought with them stories of unspeakable violence and brutality that had forced them to flee. Rohingya children are caught up in the violence in Myanmar. Fortunately, Unicef is on the ground, working with the government and international partners, helping to deliver life-saving supplies and services for Rohingya child refugees in Bangladesh. By April 2019, around 910,000 Rohingya had settled in Cox’s Bazar, thus making it the world’s largest refugee camp.

The Rohingya crisis has grievously affected the children. With the support of the Bangladesh government and humanitarian partners, refugees have gained access to some basic services. But they remain highly dependent on short-term aid, and are living in unspeakable conditions, particularly in nauseating camps, where living conditions are difficult and sometimes dangerous -- especially during Bangladesh’s long monsoon and cyclone seasons.

In Myanmar, most Rohingya have no legal identity or citizenship. Inside the country, Rohingya children are hemmed in by violence, forced displacement, and restrictions on freedom of movement. In Bangladesh, Rohingya children are not being registered at birth. Lacking a legal identity, they are unable to secure refugee status, one of the first tools for protecting children’s rights and safety.

Until the conditions are in place in Myanmar that would allow Rohingya families to return home with basic rights, safety from violence, free movement, health care, and education, they are stuck in Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, children are unable to follow a formal national education curriculum, being deprived of the skills they so desperately need, if they are to develop and thrive in the future.

On the other hand, older children and adolescents in refugee camps who are deprived of opportunities to learn or make a living are at real risk of becoming a “lost generation” -- ready prey to traffickers and those who would exploit them for political or other ends. Girls and women are at particular risk of sexual and other gender-based violence in this situation, including being forced into early marriage and being left out of school, as parents keep them at home.

A strong commitment to protecting children against violence is clearly reflected in the SDGs. Children uprooted by conflict and disaster continue to face heightened risks of violence, child labour, and exploitation.

To achieve international goals -- and protect millions of children around the world -- it is imperative to speed up the pace of progress. Indeed, a sense of urgency is required if the child protection targets in the SDGs are to be reached by the 2030 deadline.

Saleem Samad is Bangladesh correspondent for Reporters Without Borders.

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