The Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar is facing the deadliest violence against its vulnerable people in decades. The state-sanctioned genocide in the Buddhist-majority Rakhine state has forced more than 600,000 civilians to flee to Bangladesh.
Not that the world needed more proof but as humanitarian organizations reach the migrants, more evidence of the atrocities is emerging.
According to medics, Rohingya girls, as young as 10, have been sexually assaulted while fleeing violence in the Rakhine state and are now being treated for rape in camps on Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
Swiss independent medical humanitarian organization, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said the girls are at the health facility’s sexual and reproductive health unit and are receiving medical and psychological support.
The health unit is based is set up in Bangladesh’s city Cox’s Bazar and is a special clinic for survivors of sexual assault.
A spokesperson of MSF said, “About 50 percent are aged 18 or under, including one girl who was nine years old and several others under the age of 10.”
However, the organization believes that these are just a fraction of the victims who were sexually assaulted as many women and girls don’t come for treatment since it is culturally inappropriate for rape survivors to receive medical support.
“Women and girls often don’t seek medical care for sexual violence due to the stigma, shame and fear of being blamed for what’s happened to them,” said Aerlyn Pfeil, an MSF midwife focusing on support for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in Cox’s Bazar.
She also said that most of these victims are not aware that there is a special unit based in the camps.
“What I’m finding is that many of the survivors I’ve met are recent arrivals from Myanmar and have not previously been aware that there are specific medical services, or any medical services at all, available to them, said Pfeil.”
U.N. clinicians and other health workers did report evidence of sexual assault on women who had fled the state-sanctioned genocide but this is the first time for child rape incidents to emerged.
Another SGBV medical specialist, who spoke to The Guardian anonymously, said in majority of cases soldiers from the Myanmar army placed the women and girls in one place and then picked “the most beautiful one.” She was later taken away to be raped.
She also shared an instance where a 10-year-old came for medical treatment as she was heavily bleeding after being raped by three soldiers.
The stories of rape survivors are horrifying, to say the least.
A 27-year-old woman from the Buthidaung area of Rakhine shared the terrifying story of her sister’s rape.
“The military put all the male people to one side and took all the female people into the jungle. I cried when they took away my little sister, but I couldn’t stop them. They tortured and raped many girls and women,” she said.
She further added, “When they stopped and left I went looking for my sister and saw many bodies on the ground. When I found my sister I didn’t know if she was alive or dead, but she was breathing. She was bleeding a lot so I carried her to a little river and washed her. Then I took her on my shoulders till I found a small medical clinic [in Rakhine] and got some medicine for her.”
Meanwhile, Myanmar officials have mostly dismissed such allegations as militant propaganda designed to defame its military, which they say is engaged in legitimate counterinsurgency operations and under orders to protect civilians.
Banner: Reuters, Adnan Abidi