Nine months after Myanmar assaults, Rohingya camps ready for spate of births

May 1, 2018 | By | Reply More

When hundreds of thousands of Rohingya flooded into south-east Bangladesh last year they told of systematic rape and other sexual violence by Myanmar soldiers and militiamen.

Nine months after Myanmar assaults, Rohingya camps ready for spate of birthsMay will mark nine months since that exodus started. Aid agencies, especially those who work with women and children, have been bracing for the date. Over the next weeks, babies conceived as a result of sexual assaults committed during the crackdown will be born.

Save the Children says it is expecting the number of babies who are abandoned by their mothers to increase next month in line with the milestone. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which runs hospitals in the sprawling Cox’s Bazar camps, is preparing to counsel affected mothers.

Yet they will not be the first children conceived in this way to be born in the camps. About one year ago, Ayesha Akhtar* missed her period. A few weeks earlier, the Rohingya woman says three Burmese soldiers had burst into her home in a village south of Maungdaw town, threatened to shoot her children, then raped her.

Similar raids had been taking place for months across Rakhine state as part of a Myanmar army crackdown beginning in November 2016.

Ayesha, a mother of five whose husband died in 2012, says the “dirty act” left her reeling. She tried keeping it from her neighbours, but they quickly guessed.

“Everyone knew the soldiers commit rape when they raid villages,” she tells the Guardian inside her tarpaulin shelter on a slope in Balukhali, one of the congested refugee camps that has swollen with new arrivals since last August.

In Myanmar, most Rohingya had little or no access to healthcare, let alone abortion services. Ayesha, 34, says she bought “medicine” from a village doctor that failed to halt the pregnancy. As a widow, she felt a particular stigma against asking other villagers for help.

“Seeking help to abort pregnancy is very difficult for a widow in our society,” she says. “I stopped searching for any way to get rid of the pregnancy and I left everything to the mercy of Allah.”

In August 2017, when she was five months’ pregnant, a new round of military raids began in her area. Like nearly 700,000 other Rohingya she fled across the border to Bangladesh.

Inside the heaving refugee camps, she again sought help to terminate the pregnancy. But by then it was too late. Bangladesh law prohibits abortion after the first trimester. Doctors warned her an illegal procedure could endanger her life.

“I had other little children at home,” she says. “I chose not to take the risk.”

Nobody knows how many women like Ayesha there are in the camps. MSF says it treated 224 victims of sexual violence up to 25 February, but acknowledges there are many more who do not seek help.

Press journalist for HRO media – Ignacio Damigo reports.

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Category: International

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