BANGKOK (AlertNet) – More than 40,000 Rohingya children in western Myanmar have been deprived of rights to travel, go to school or to marry in future, because their parents had an unauthorised marriage or exceeded a two-child limit, a report said
Rights groups say the Rohingyas, a Muslim minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, face some of the worst discrimination in the world, have suffered abuses and deprived of free movement, education and employment under the country’s former military rulers and now under the current government. They are also denied Myanmar citizenship.
These blacklisted children are refused birth registration, and so are not included in the family list and get hidden during the authorities’ population checks, said the report, which human rights organisation Arakan Project on Thursday submitted to the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child.
“All Rohingya children suffer unmitigated discrimination with regard to education, health care and access to food,” the report said.
The report say there are close to 750,000 Rohingyas in the country’s Northern Rakhine State and hundreds of thousands more scattered in Bangladesh,Malaysia and the Middle East following exoduses in the past few decades.
Families with blacklisted children also suffer from “unending extortion” by local authorities because the parents can be arrested for hosting an unregistered guest, the report added.
According to The Arakan Project, Rohingyas need official authorisation to marry and the authorities can take several years to grant it. Those who marry have to sign an undertaking that they will have no more than two children, and marriage or cohabitation without authorisation is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
The authorities have started a process of registering these children in the past two months, but some parents fear this is a ploy to prosecute them for unauthorised marriage, The Arakan Project said.
Registered Rohingya children hardly fare any better, as they are denied citizenship and remain stateless, the report said.
Rohingya children in Myanmar are exposed to preventable diseases due to chronic malnutrition and a lack of access to healthcare, while many are subjected to forced labour.
Four in every five Rohingyas in Myanmar are illiterate, the report said. The main reason for Rohingya children not attending school is widespread poverty as children must contribute to the family income, it said.
“Forced labour has a severe economic impact, driving down the poor already surviving hand-to-mouth into abject poverty, exposing children to hunger and malnutrition,” the report said.
The report cites the story of a 9-year-old Rohingya boy who looked after a neighbouring farmer’s cows for the whole day for a fee. He said he was forced to carry loads, repair roads or cut grass for the local authorities and the army for free.
“Being hungry is very painful. When I am hungry I feel like crying,” said the boy who is registered as the son of his grandmother, after his parents married without official authorisation and had to flee to Bangladesh.
“When there is no food, my grandmother borrows rice from the neighbour but sometimes the neighbours cannot give any rice to her because they also have no rice,” he added.
THE RIGHT TO IDENTIFICATION
Myanmar’s nominally civilian government, which took power last March after half a century of iron-fished military rule, has surprised both its citizens and foreign countries with the speed of its reforms.
The government has begun peace talks with ethnic rebels, relaxed its strict media censorship and allowed trade unions and protests.
However, “deeply discriminatory policies” against the Rohingyas remain. The authorities justify these policies as illegal immigration management and population control, said Chris Lewa, coordinator of The Arakan Project.
This discrimination is rooted in the belief, both by the government and by many in Myanmar, that the Rohingyas are a product of recent migration from Bangladesh, the report said.
Consistently referred to as ‘illegal immigrants from Bangladesh,’ Myanmar’s Rohingyas are deprived of one of the most basic human rights – the right to an identification.
“Rohingya children, in particular, bear the full brunt of the devastating impact of these (discriminatory) policies, which gravely impair their physical and mental development as children and will affect the long-term future of their community,” the report said.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)