Embargoed: 5.00am, Wednesday 20 June, 2018
Speaking out for the first time since fleeing violence in Myanmar, Rohingya girls aged 10 to 19 have shared their stories of horrific physical and sexual violence, their isolation in the camps, and their hopes of attending school.
Coinciding with World Refugee Day (20 June), Plan International and Monash University’s Gender, Peace and Security research centre have launched a new report, Adolescent Girls in Crisis: Voices of the Rohingya, that gives voice to the thousands of adolescent girls affected by the Rohingya Crisis.
Based on a survey of 300 girls aged 10-19 in Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, the report found:
- Close to one in three (28%) girls had reported a major injury or illness in the last year.
- Girls, though safe from extreme violence after fleeing Myanmar, continued to report high rates of violence in the camps. Troublingly, one in four girls aged 10-14 reported being hit or beaten in the past month.
- Many girls reported that since arriving in the camp, they never or rarely leave their tent.
- Only 28% of girls were currently attending educational programs. Almost no girls aged 15-19 had access to learning centres.
- High rates of teenage pregnancy were also reported with 16% of girls aged 15 to 19 experiencing pregnancy.
In August 2017, the outbreak of violence in Rakhine state in Myanmar led to the mass and forced displacement of the minority Rohingya Muslim population to Bangladesh, mainly Cox’s Bazar. Today roughly one million refugees are at the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar[i]Children are reported to make up a staggering 58% of the displaced population.
The report reveals the horrific levels of extreme violence that girls experienced and witnessed in Myanmar. They spoke of beatings, torture and burnings, and witnessing the deaths of their own family and friends. One 19-year-old girl told researchers:
“They burnt my house in Burma, killing my siblings. To save my own life I have fled to Bangladesh.”>
Many girls have been exposed to severe forms of sexual violence. One girl shared her story of a friend killed following a sexual assault - “My female friend was killed by a boy after doing bad things to her”.
Others identified the threat of sexual violence as the reason they fled their homes.
“No child, no girl, no human, should ever have to endure what these girls have in their short life,” said Plan International Australia’s CEO Susanne Legena.
“Not only are girls struggling to recover from witnessing or experiencing physical and sexual violence, but they’re struggling to rebuild their lives in Bangladesh. Girls told us that they face daily isolation and disconnection, with many telling us they’re unable to leave the stifling, over-crowded tents that they call home due to concerns for their safety and cultural norms.”
“Because of this girls are missing out on education, counselling and health care, and aren’t able to access basic amenities like showers and toilets,” said Ms Legena
In April, the Australian Government announced that it will provide an additional $15 million in humanitarian assistance to support the delivery of food, shelter and health services to these vulnerable people. This additional funding will provide food to more than 700,000 people in Cox’s Bazar, and high-nutrient porridge to more than 100,000 children under the age of five and breastfeeding or pregnant women. It will also support child protection services, and counselling and medical services for women and girls who have survived sexual and gender-based violence.
Ms Legena commended this assistance, and highlighted the importance of ensuring that Australia’s humanitarian response to the crisis reaches adolescent girls.
“The Australian Government must make sure that funding goes to services that can address the specific needs of girls who often fall through the gaps. This means funding adolescent girl safe spaces, youth-friendly counselling and health services, and mobile education services staffed by female teachers.”
Despite the isolation, Rohingyan girls demonstrated positivity and hope for their future. They have a passion for education and said they wanted to go to school and develop skills that will help them and their communities.
“I want to complete my education and get a job, and work for the welfare of this community,” explained one 12-year-old girl.
Another 14-year-old girl said: “I want to be educated but cannot. This is the biggest barrier in my life. I have a desire to establish myself by studying.”
The report reveals that girls desperately want to learn but only 28% of those surveyed were currently attending educational programs.
Report co-author Monash University’s Associate Professor Katrina Lee-Koo highlighted access to secondary education as one of the most significant challenges facing girls in Cox’s Bazar.
"Adolescent Rohingya girls want to continue their education, but are finding few avenues to do so,” said Ms Lee-Koo. “While some of the girls we spoke with were receiving primary school-level education, next to no girls over 15 had access to schools and educational programs. There is a desperate need for this to change."
Plan International Australia and Monash University hope to see this research used to guide the humanitarian sector’s and government’s response to girls aged 10 to 19 in protracted crises.
Plan International Australia is also calling on the Australian Government to adopt a more strategic approach to meeting the needs of adolescent girls, more broadly, through Australia’s aid and development program.
“For the first time we’re hearing what adolescent girls need to thrive. A stand-alone action plan for adolescent girls, developed by the Australian Government, will go a long way towards meeting girls’ unique needs and ensuring Australia’s aid investment truly reaches our next generation of women,” Ms Legena said.
Plan International Australia is currently running an appeal to provide protection and support to adolescent girls and children through child friendly spaces in Cox’s Bazar
Media please note:
Given the sensitive and potentially triggering nature of this content, please include details for crisis support lines in your reports: Lifeline 13 11 14 or the Suicide Callback Service 1300 659 467.
Plan International has been working in Bangladesh since 1994 and has so far reached around 60,000 Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar since the latest influx through the provision of latrines, female friendly bathing spaces, distribution of hygiene kits and the installation of communal waste bins in the camps, coupled with hygiene promotion sessions. Plan has also been assisting with the registration of unaccompanied, separated and orphaned children, and family tracing and reunification. Emergency preparedness for the cyclone and monsoon season remains the priority, with Plan International delivering activities for emergency preparedness and protection, including hygiene promotion, to avoid an “emergency within an emergency” as the risk of disease outbreak increases with the monsoon season.
[i]Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG). 10 May 2018. “Situation Report: Rohingya Refugee Crisis.” p. 2. https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/sites/www.humanitarianresponse.info/files/documents/files/20180510_-_iscg_-_sitrep_final.pdf. p. 2.