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Rohingya rape victims are braced for a Ramadan baby boom

Rohingya Muslims, fled from ongoing military operations in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, walk to a makeshift camp on hills at Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh on September 17, 2017 [Zakir Hossain Chowdhury / Anadolu Agency]
Rohingya Muslims, who escaped from ongoing military operations in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, walk to a makeshift camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh on 17 September 2017 [Zakir Hossain Chowdhury / Anadolu Agency]

Eid babies are normally seen as a great blessing across the Muslim world and a perfect end to pregnancies after Ramadan. We shouldn’t, though, expect any celebrations over the impending baby boom in the makeshift maternity camps along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border where the results of mass rape are about to make an entrance into the world. Thousands of babies are expected to be born in the coming days and weeks in the camps. So while de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi still calls the stories of organised rape carried out by her fellow Burmese “fake news” perhaps she should go along to the camps and see for herself as girls as young as 12 go into labour.

Schoolgirls, young women and even the more mature are in the final stages of their pregnancies and because of the stigma attached to the births no one is quite sure how many of these babies will be rejected or abandoned. Some young girls have already died at the hands of amateur abortionists in an attempt to “preserve family honour”.

Other families have hastily arranged marriages for unmarried girls and women who are pregnant through rape; both Save the Children and UNICEF have reported an increase in child marriages in the camps. “If you’re unmarried and raped, your future is almost over in terms of your social acceptability, “explained UN refugee spokeswoman Caroline Gluck recently. “You’re tarred; damaged goods.”

READ: ‘Whitewashing’ Genocide in Myanmar 

Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi has called for evidence and proof of mass rape, but she need look no further than the maternity wards being set up by aid agencies. Even today, though, her government still refuses to give full access to NGOs, journalists and politicians in Rakhine State where some of the worst crimes against humanity took place against the Muslim minority. Some journalists have been detained for reporting what they see and Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo remain in prison because of the photographic evidence they collected of villagers being lined up and executed.

A Rohingya Muslim woman, fled from ongoing military operations in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, holds a child at a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh on September 20, 2017 [Safvan Allahverdi / Anadolu Agency]

Rohingya Muslims, who escaped from ongoing military operations in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, can be seen at a makeshift camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh on 17 September 2017 [Zakir Hossain Chowdhury / Anadolu Agency]

Doctors Without Borders has recorded 160 cases of pregnant rape victims between August 2017 and February 2018 but that is expected to rise dramatically. Some 13,500 Rohingya women suffered sexual violence as they fled their homes, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); in reality, the number is thought to be much higher.

“We’re expecting about 130 live births per day across 2018,” Rachael Cummings, a Save the Children’s Health Advisor in Cox’s Bazar, told journalists. “Most babies will likely be born at home in basic tents, in part because of the shortage of quality, 24-hour health facilities able to handle and manage basic emergency obstetrics, as well as challenges accessing health care.”

READ: ‘Say the Word’: What the Rohingya Struggle is Really About 

According to Canadian medic Dr Fozia Alvi, who has volunteered in the camps and returns in August: “The gang rape by Myanmar soldiers was systematic, organised and widespread. Now the babies are arriving with mothers as young as 13 and 14 giving birth in makeshift tents. Lots of women have tried to abort these babies because they don’t want to have children fathered by the soldiers who butchered their own fathers and husbands.” She concurs that Suu Kyi needs to visit the camps and meet these woman and young girls. “It is a shame on humanity that she is denying the endless evidence of rape.”

South African lawyer Shabnam Mayet from NGO Protect the Rohingya told MEMO: “Having taken the testimonies of victims of rape and gang rape there is no doubt these brutal attacks perpetrated by the military and extremist Rakhine Buddhists was pre-planned and aimed at terrifying the Rohingya into fleeing.” The babies born in the squalid camps of Bangladesh in the coming weeks, she added, will provide the living evidence of the extent of the mass sexual violence unleashed on Rohingya girls and women during the so-called “military clearance operation” last August.

To make matters worse, the monsoon season is about to engulf the camps and many of the homes are fragile, held together by rope, bamboo and plastic. In other words the misery is being piled on for the 700,000 plus Rohingya who have fled the violence since last August, and it’s about to get much, much worse. And still the UN has yet to call this disaster for what it is: a genocide.

READ: Israel accuses Myanmar Rohingya of ‘committing war crimes’ 

Just a few months ago I joined a team from Protect the Rohingya on a visit to the camps in order to collect sworn statements to be used in any court in the world where International Jurisdiction is recognised. We were expecting the international community to come together and act swiftly on this evidence. We are still waiting. The harrowing statements and sworn affidavits are being used, but only in individual actions.

Meanwhile, the government in Myanmar continues to go to great lengths to protect its armed forces. The same government has “strong ties” with Israel, from whom it has received “military equipment… including gunboats, since the crisis intensified last year,” reported Middle East Eye this week after Myanmar and Israel signed an agreement to edit passages concerning their own history in the other state’s textbooks. “Education agreement with Myanmar, continuing cooperation with our friends around the world,” tweeted Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely.

The scale of sexual violence against the Rohingya was obviously pre-planned but the genocidal rape has yet to be really addressed by the UN Security Council despite the widespread condemnation from the international organisation’s Secretary-General, governments and global civil society. If the UN wants proof of genocidal rape it is being delivered right now, by girls as young as 12 in the Rohingya refugee camps. There’s your incontrovertible evidence, UN; now act against the rapists and killers.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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