Nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh to escape the brutal military crackdown in Myanmar that was termed as an “anti-terrorism” campaign by the authorities.
During the state-sanctioned genocide, the army burned down entire villages, forcing people out of their homes. The appalling operation also included the Burmese army raiding homes and inflicting sexual violence on the female residents.
Myanmar soldiers reportedly used rape as a tool of war to terrorize the Rohingya Muslim women.
Now, with several months passed since the beginning of the operation, the victims living in the refugee camps have reportedly begun to give birth to babies conceived after what has been described as “methodic” rape.
Some of these mothers are as young as 13.
The fate of these women and their newborn babies remains uncertain. Many of these young mothers were afraid at the prospect of giving birth to the child of a Burmese soldier, certain that the act of carrying the child alone would deem them traitors in the eyes of their people.
Most suffered in silence, trying to procure abortion pills handed by relief workers or the cheap ones available in shops to cleanse themselves of the “dirtiness” inside them. Women who were successful in terminating their pregnancies described the experience as a purifying one.
One woman, identified only by her initial T, who sought pills and a religious leader to rid herself of the baby, said she felt relieved when the methods worked and she miscarried the fetus.
However, a number of other girls had to live with their pregnancies.
A 13-year-old minor, identified only as A, missed her periods for a couple of months. She had no idea that a life was breathing inside her until her belly began to bloat. She then told her mother who took her to a pharmacy.
But for the young child, the prospect of abortion seemed too risky.
Nevertheless, she tried several other methods to terminate the pregnancy. The girl also tied scarves around her belly to conceal the baby, but all efforts went in vain.
When she went into labor, she stuffed clothes inside her mouth to drown her screams. When her daughter was born, she gave it away to a relief worker who found her a new home with a Rohingya family, according to the reports.
She said she knows it was the right decision to make, but still cannot help but miss the child she carried for nine months. For now, she hopes that she will find a good man to marry after her suitors deserted her when they found out about the incident.
Meanwhile, many other women have not been able to leave their babies.
Another women said she heard the soldiers storming her house but could not escape when her two daughters did. Her 6-month-old son was strangled and she was raped by the six soldiers who entered her home. When her husband found out a couple of months later, he blamed her for not running away.
She too began to blame herself for not being quicker to run away. She gave birth to a boy and decided to keep him just so she had a son. She knows the child is not to blame, but said she cannot bring herself to love him.
The woman cannot even let the child snuggle up to her. Her husband refuses to touch her, and thinks she is useless to him. He now wants a second wife.
In times of war, women’s bodies are used as weapons to serve the country, or to exact revenge from the enemy.
For the oppressed population, women house in their bodies a honor that the enemy threatens to defile, and for the invading forces, women’s bodies are opportunities to insult the population even more.
Later, in narratives of war, these women become mere statistics.
Misguided attempts to make heroes out of these women, such as Bangladesh’s decision to give the title of “Birangona” or brave women to women raped during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, ultimately also erase the personhood of these women, making them not whole human beings on their own, but war heroes in the service of a nation.
Banner / Thumbnail : Reuters