In the middle of the night in a town in south-eastern Bangladesh, a Rohingya boy is found bound and blindfolded and dumped in the marketplace. He is pale and skinny, but he is alive. And nearly four months after he went missing, that is enough for his parents.
In April, Mohammad Faisal vanished from Kutapalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh where he lived with his family. His parents feared their boy, aged about 13, had been trafficked onto a fishing vessel, or perhaps worse.
Child trafficking has become common in the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar. The largest refugee camp complex in the world is home to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who live in temporary settlements after fleeing violence in 2017 that drove them from Myanmar and left thousands of Rohingyans dead. Trafficked girls may end up in a life of prostitution, boys in forced labor; many are transported to India. But Faisal’s story was stranger than that.
Back in April, his mother Khurshida Begum says her neighbor’s daughter and her husband, a Bangladeshi citizen, visited her home, a tiny shelter made of bamboo poles and plastic sheets. The husband, called Kamal Hosan, allegedly offered to take Faisal on a day trip to the market. “I let them go,” says Begum. “I just wanted my son to have the chance to get out of the camp for a moment.”
Instead, he disappeared without a trace.
Begum says shortly after Faisal’s disappearance her family received a phone call. The voice on the other end said he would return their son, but for a price: 1,000 taka – about $12 US dollars.
For Faisal’s parents it was an easy decision that came at a steep cost. In order to raise the money to buy back their son’s freedom, the family sold their entire three-month ration of rice. They transferred the money, but the perpetrator didn’t hand over their son, nor did they provide a location to find him.
Begum looked for outside help, but it’s an uphill battle for Rohingya to have their voices heard. Getting information out of the sprawling camp often proves to be a challenge. Rohingyas need special permission to leave Cox’s Bazar and, because the Rohingya are technically stateless, there’s no guarantee the Bangladeshi police will file a report.
In July, the CNN Freedom Project traveled to Cox’s Bazar with the K