Rohingya refugee parents have told researchers that giving up their children for adoption or child labour wasn’t what they wanted for them first off, but the economic situation made it difficult to do anything else.

This is one the key findings from the latest report entitled ‘“LOST CHILDHOOD” ; An insight into Rohingya parent-child separation in Bangladesh’ from the Xchange Foundation. The report examines parent and child separation facing Rohingya refugees within the refugee camps and settlements of Bangladesh.

The team drew on a number of testimonies from Rohingya families living in the camps, in which parents and children had been separated either voluntarily or involuntarily.

According to UNICEF, there are an estimated 500,000 children under the age of 18 which are living in the camps, almost 80% of them (300,000) between the ages of 3 and 14.

Bhasan Char and other problems

This is the latest survey carried out by the migration data and collection service Xchange Foundation on the Rohingya refugee population living in Cox’s Bazaar Bangladesh.

Previously the team had explored the major objections and concerns of the Rohingya population to the prospect of being re-located to the silt island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal.

Most Rohingya refugees refuse to go to Bhasan Char island – Xchange survey

Credit: Xchange Foundation

The region of Cox’s Bazaar Bangladesh has been host to Rohingya refugees for just over the last three decades. The recent crackdown and massacre by the Myanmar military in August 2017 forcing whole families and communities to flee westward to Bangladesh.

Recent surveys by Xchange Foundation have also explored the incidents and journeys faced on the way to Bangladesh as well as their living conditions and perceptions of safety inside the camps.

Gender norms

According to the interviews carried out by the survey team, gender norms, financial instability and restrictions on employment opportunities making it difficult to provide for families, were common motivations for female respondents to give up their children for adoption or to work.

With males (fathers and sons) being regarded as the main breadwinners of the family, females were largely unable to find employment when the males couldn’t work.

One respondent said, ‘If a family does not have a capable son who can support the family and if all the family members are female, or suffering due to lack of support, then they give their child for labour.’

One of the female respondents explained that they due to their husband being ill and unable to work, they needed to send their daughter out to work in order to provide not only for the family but also for the medical care for her father.

Credit: Xchange Foundation – Maria Ortega Fatas

‘In the past, their father could fish in the river but now he can’t because he is sick. My daughter sends us some money; that money is to cover the cost of her father’s treatment.’

Others said it was easier to give up their child much sooner after their birth because they had not managed to build an emotional bond with them. In one case a female named Sameera explained that after giving birth to twins, she could not care for both resulting in her decision to give one of them up.

‘I can’t take proper care of two kids, so that’s why I gave one up for adoption. […] I can’t feed the other one properly, so how could I feed [the adopted one]? He is a boy…but I couldn’t take care of both of them due to the lack of money,’ she said.

Marriage

While all of the respondents told the survey that they would give up their children to ensure they had a better life, there were also those who saw sending their female children to work as a way of being able to afford their daughter’s marriage. Marriage in this case was seen as a key way of reducing their financial burdens, provided there was the money to afford a dowry.

In the case of Khadija, this was not the necessarily feasible.

‘When she was younger, she liked to study. She was studying in the madrasah. […] But [now] we cannot manage food properly, so how can she study? […] Now she is grown up. I would like to give her in marriage…[but] we don’t have the money [for dowry].’

Communication and Promises

In the next part of this report we’ll look at the issue of communication between separated families and children and the promises made to the families of refugees for financial support.

Credit: Xchange Foundation – Maria Ortega Fatas