The ongoing Rohingya crisis, from the Myanmar military crackdown that resulted in thousands of houses and villages being burned or destroyed, will leave its bloody mark on generations to come.
International aid organization Save The Children reports of the 655,000 Rohingya people, who have taken shelter in Bangladesh, 380,000 are minors.
Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders estimates 730 children, all of whom were younger than 5, were killed in Myanmar, mostly by gunshots, being burned in their homes or being beaten to death. The estimate, though, is considered “conservative” by the international medical charity.
Children who have fled are not entirely safe either. To Myanmar, they are “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh and, to Bangladesh, they are foreigners from Myanmar.
According to the United Nations refugee agency, 5,600 families of Rohingya in Bangladesh are unaccompanied by a guardian and almost each household has six to seven children, which makes it difficult to feed all of them sufficiently.
Christophe Boulierac, UNICEF spokesman, said thousands of Rohingya children are facing a public health crisis in refugee camps and makeshift settlements in Cox's Bazaar.
"Up to 25 percent of children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition and this is much more than the WHO emergency threshold of 15 percent," Boulierac explained. "Nearly half of them, have anemia. Up to 40 percent of them have diarrhea and up to 60 percent of them have acute respiratory infections."
Boulierac also said even though UNICEF has set up 22 outpatient treatment centers, a scant 16 percent of children are getting a diet that is barely sufficient for “growth and development,” with 7 percent of them suffering from acute malnutrition, a condition which can be fatal if not treated. This figure is three times higher than in other recent humanitarian emergencies.
Around 40 percent children suffering from diseases such as diarrhea, measles and cholera are still drinking water contaminated with fecal matter as the water wells are dug very close to the latrines.
#RohingyaCrisis: 1 in 4 children in Kutupalong are acutely malnourished; nearly half are anemic; 40% have diarrhea; and more than half have acute respiratory infections. v/@UNICEFROSA pic.twitter.com/CzAXuLZpvl— UNICEF Emergencies (@UNICEFEMOPS) January 4, 2018
Apart from death and physical ailments, Rohingya children are also undergoing a mental health crisis, according to Lalou Rostrup Holdt, a mental health adviser for Save the Children. She has been working in the camps for more than two months now.
These are the children who have witnessed relatives being tortured, raped and killed. They have developed a hyper-stressed condition due to the constant exposure to violence. Child development experts say these children are living in a constant state of fear that triggers “fight and flight” response, which can change how their brain functions.
“What we’re seeing is the perfect breeding ground for a massive mental health crisis for children. You have trauma on a huge scale, children seeing brutal killings and being forced to leave home with nothing. You have hunger. You also have significant developmental delays due to malnutrition and under-stimulation that predate the recent trauma. It’s absolutely devastating for an entire community,” Holdt explains.
Unfortunately, the situation is expected to destabilize even further as Save The Children estimates 48,000 babies will be born in 2018 in the overcrowded refugee camps. Some of the children are born of rape. In addition, there are no precautionary measures being taken to take care of the mothers-to-be or infants. With limited access to clean running water, these babies might not even make it to 5 years old. Out of 870,000 Rohingya living in the makeshift tent city of Cox's Bazar, around 5 percent of women are pregnant.
Save the Children estimates more than 48,000 Rohingya babies will be born in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh in 2018, or 130 births a day. #auspol #RohingyaCrisis https://t.co/MVvZOExqT7 pic.twitter.com/mdqgICYCDL— Lisa Martin (@LMARTI) January 5, 2018
Most of the women will give birth in the tents or tarps and the “setting is really very, very sick,” said Rachel Cummings from Save The Children.
The international aid agency also believes the prospects of young refugees are grim and even if, for argument's sake, the refugee children are rehabilitated in Bangladesh, their stateless status will continue to be a source of uncertainty as to what the future holds.
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