The struggle to heal in Cox’s Bazaar

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: Article 22 – the right to receive special protection as a refugee

UNICEF Bangladesh
Soni, Hosson and and Rahmatullah lean against a brightly colored wicker wall and look at the camera. A large green plant is in the middle of them.
UNICEF Bangladesh/2019/Sujanmap
18 September 2019

Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh – In Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have been forced to flee their homes. Among those are Soni, Hosson and Rahmatullah, 17- and 16-year-old boys who left their village in Buthidoung, Myanmar in August of 2017.

“The attacks began in the middle of the night,” one of the boys said. “We watched as whole villages burned to the ground, as children were shot and women were raped.”

Such violence is not new to Myanmar. For decades, the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group, have faced persecution, violence and targeted discrimination in their communities. But in 2017, a military-led operation forced the Rohingya people from their homes in unprecedented numbers. Within a week, over 1,000 people are thought to have died, though the numbers are hard to verify.

Most of those who survived settled in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. In camps throughout the area, 910,000 refugees have attempted to rebuild their lives, trying to move forward in an environment that is overcrowded and under-resourced. Doing so can be nearly impossible for anyone – but it is even more difficult for children.

“The adolescent boys in the camp need help healing from their trauma. The brutality we saw will not fade out in a month or a year.”

– Hosson

Though they have escaped the violence in Myanmar, the horrors Soni, Hosson and Rahmatullah have experienced have not gone away. According to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the world’s most widely ratified human rights treaty, all child refugees have the right to receive special protective services, specifically those that will help them cope with their experiences and rebuild their lives.

To ensure children access that right, programs throughout the camp are engaging adolescents in productive activities, while at the same time, protecting children from additional trauma.

“The adolescent center in the camp keeps us busy,” Soni said. “We are provided skills-trainings on various issues, and will soon begin vocational training to repair solar systems."

 

We need this [skills-training] because we are tired of being lazy – we want to engage in work.”

– Soni

Though Soni, Hosson and Rahmatullah have benefitted from these programs and accessed their right to special protection, many adolescents have not. Rahmatullah said that he frequently sees boys leaving the camp to work in other districts, often engaging in drug dealing, crime and violence out of desperation, boredom or lack of opportunity. Others, Soni said, get married for entertainment. Left with little to do and nothing to hope for, children without special protection are starting families far before they reach the legal age to do so.

“Camp-based work or volunteer activities may help stop adolescent boys from those activities,” Rahmatullah said. “The Bangladesh government and organisations in the camps should provide more skills-trainings for adolescent boys.”

According to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, states have an obligation to cooperate with organisations to protect and provide for child refugees. Every child deserves to be given the chance to start over – and we should do everything in our power to make that opportunity a reality for all.