Ansar Ahmed Ullah
Contributing Editor, Shottobani
London: In early May, UN News published a special report highlighting the concerns being voiced by several leading UN officials over the legacy of what Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, described as a “frenzy of sexual violence”.
Members of the mainly-Muslim minority community began fleeing Myanmar’s Rakhine state last August following a military crackdown targeting extremists, during which homes were destroyed, men and boys killed, and countless women and girls raped.
On 19 June, the world marked the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, and the UN been finding out how some of the survivors have been coping, now that dozens of children of rape have been born – and what UN agencies are doing to provide them with vital services and support.
“Sameera” (not her real name) is among the Rohingya refugees now sheltering in the crowded camps of the Cox’s Bazar region in south-eastern Bangladesh. The 17-year-old had only been married for a couple of months when her husband was killed. She was raped just days after his death, when three soldiers showed up at her door, together with two other Rohingya girls, who were also raped. “As I will give birth to the baby, he or she will be mine, no matter who the father is,” she told the UN Children’s Fund(UNICEF).
Since August, more than 16,000 babies have been born in the refugee camps, according to the UN agency. It is difficult to determine exactly how many were conceived through rape, said Pramila Patten, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. “You also have the stigma of a pregnancy as a result of rape which makes it very hard for women to come out openly with the fact of their pregnancy,” she told UN News last month, shortly after returning from a mission to the Kutupalong camp, one of the largest refugee camps in the world. “And in fact, there are many reports from local Rohingyas that many girls, especially young adolescents, are actually hiding the fact of their pregnancy and will never seek medical care, for example, for the delivery.”
UNICEF has collected testimonies from several women and girls like “Sameera,” whose children are among what UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called the “forgotten victims of war.” Conceived through conflict-related rape, these boys and girls grow up struggling with their identity or fall victim to stigma and shame. At the same time, their mothers are marginalized or even shunned by their communities.
For the past three years, the UN has designated 19 June as the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict to promote solidarity with survivors.
In Bangladesh, the arrival of the monsoon winds and rains just over a week ago is making life even more difficult for the Rohingya refugees and the humanitarians assisting them. More than 720,000 Rohingya have arrived in Cox’s Bazar as of the end of May, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), joining some 200,000 others who had fled earlier waves of persecution and discrimination.
Since the start of the crisis, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has deployed 60 highly skilled midwives to the area who are also trained in clinical management of rape and family planning counselling. Nineteen women-friendly spaces have also been created in the camps.
UNFPA said key among “protection challenges” is scaling up assistance to survivors of gender-based violence, and other vulnerable populations, including through psychosocial support and counselling, and psychological first aid.
So far, 47,000 Rohingya mothers-to-be have received antenatal check-ups while 1,700 babies were safely delivered in clinics supported by the Fund.