Adolescent Rohingya girls are being kept in stifling conditions in refugee camps in Bangladesh, unable to go out, deprived of education and facing prospects of early marriage whether they want it or not, according to a report by the charity Plan International launched on World Refugee Day.
The report, Adolescent Girls in Crisis: Voices of the Rohingya is based on interviews with 300 refugee girls between 10 and 19 years old living in camps outside Cox’s Bazar.
More than a million Rohingya, a Muslim minority from neighboring Myanmar, have fled across the border to Bangladesh since an upsurge in violence against them that started in August.
Plan found that once they arrived in a refugee shelter, girls were confined to tiny huts measuring just a few square feet, where temperatures soar close to 40° Celsius (104˚ Fahrenheit) each day, unable to go out because of restrictions placed on them by their families and for fear of violence.
“There is no doubt that adolescent Rohingya girls are one of the greatest victims in this humanitarian crisis,” said Orla Murphy, Plan International’s country director in Bangladesh in a press release. “The cramped and overcrowded conditions – not only in the camps, but also inside the tiny tents they now call home – are having a devastating impact on their lives.
“Many of them have witnessed horrific violence and are in urgent need of assistance, but they cannot access any of the services on offer to help them cope with what they’ve been through. Instead, they spend almost every hour of every day inside their sweltering tents, where the only activities they have to keep themselves occupied are cooking and cleaning. They long to go to school, to go outside, to make new friends, and to rebuild their lives, but none of these things are possible for them under the current conditions in which they live.”
Plan International wants the aid agencies and governments helping the refugees to “urgently address the needs of safety, education, sanitation, food security and healthcare – including mental health services – that Rohingya girls currently lack and have themselves spoken strongly about in the research report.”
The organization also called for a greater understanding of the cultural dynamics that affect girls.
Only 28% percent of respondents attended school, while 22% of the girls aged 15 to 19 were already married, and 70% of them already had one child.
Being forced to flee their homes and live among people they did not know before heightened the sense of security concerns and led to even greater restrictions of movement, especially for the older girls.
The report found that girls of all ages were keen to go to school. It said the factors limiting access include “few female teachers, language issues, security concerns, care responsibilities and household duties, negative attitudes towards girls’ education and, in particular, limited freedom of movement.”
It said girls repeatedly reported that access to clean water was one of the major challenges that they faced in the camps and warned that “as the monsoon season approaches, the temporary shelters will become untenable and the likely destruction of the makeshift sanitation facilities threatens to contaminate water and spread disease.”
Most of the girls interviewed said they still didn’t have enough to eat.