‘Many of my friends stopped going to school, but I didn’t do this, and will never do this’ - Safiya speaks out about child marriage
Safiya is studying at Grade 3 level in one of our Community Schools for Working Children in Bangladesh, not only this but she is also challenging the norms of child marriage in her community.
The Schools we support here in Cox’s Bazar provide a free education in the afternoons for working children, and ensure equal access for girls. Here they have a few hours to learn, rest and play with their friends. All the students follow a BRAC curriculum and are prepared to access government schools at a later stage to continue their education beyond Grade 3.
Safiya is a member of the child council and, in the recent newsletter that they publish, she talked about her feelings on child marriage.
“Early marriage is a deep worry in our slums. Most of the parents commonly do it, and my grandmother is also interested in giving me away in marriage. I have heard from my teacher that early marriage is a risk to girl’s health and even their lives. Girls who have these health problems can’t be happy. Several times I have tried to explain this to my grandmother, I even talked about an example of one of my friends who married early and is now suffering.
In my slum many of people say ‘Why are you studying?’ I look older than I am, so they think I should feel the same as them and stop going to school. Because of these types of comments many of my friends stopped going to school, but I didn’t do this and will never do this, whatever people said”.
The schools help to protect girls like Safiya by giving them a route to stay in education. Teachers are trained to talk with children and their parents about the benefits of staying in school, and the risks associated with child marriage. Through the child council, children are learning even more about their safety, their rights and how to raise their voices.
Safiya is one of the first to begin speaking out about this issue, she says “If I leave the school my grandmother will marry me off, which I don’t like at my early age. I have decided to advocate against early marriage in my slum. If my neighbours don’t hear me I will bring my teacher to explain it to them, early marriage is a risk for health and life. Everybody pray for me so I can do it”.
Rachel Bentley is the International Director of Children on the Edge. Returning from a visit to Bangladesh last week she made the following statement:
In the last month, a catastrophic rise of violence and ethnic cleansing in Rakhine State, Myanmar has forced over 480,000 Rohingya across the border to Bangladesh, into makeshift refugee camps and local communities. These already impoverished communities, who are still taking stock of recent flood damage, are ill-equipped to host scores of traumatised new arrivals.
Returning today from a trip to Cox’s Bazar and the Kutapalong area where we work, it is clear that the situation is in flux and evolving every day. At present we have observed the following regarding the location, conditions and provision of aid for refugees:
There are few solutions being presented for this beleaguered and stateless population, who are still largely unwelcome in Bangladesh and remain victims of hatred in Myanmar.
Over the last week our partners have conducted a survey determining that at present, the majority of refugees are situated in the Kutupalong camp. They are now carrying out further needs assessments, ascertaining how best to help in camp, identifying unreached groups and gaps in provision.
This will direct our first tranche of emergency humanitarian support (October-December 2017). This response will be implemented by our partners, MUKTI who we have been working with since 2000 and who have ample capacity.
We anticipate that within the next few weeks and months, refugees will migrate back towards the slum areas around Cox’s Bazar. Children on the Edge already have a presence in many of these communities through our support of Learning Centres for working children.
The second tranche of our support will commence from January 2018 onwards. During this stage it is likely we will establish a number of new learning centres for Rohingya children in the communities, however we will be constantly monitoring a situation that is, and will continue to be in constant flux.
The priority of any work we deliver is to extend support to the most vulnerable refugees, those who are unreached and overlooked. Whether in the camp areas or the communities, during this phase the Centres we establish will provide stable, safe spaces for children to learn, play and recover from the trauma they have been through.
This is an ongoing humanitarian emergency that will persist beyond 2018. We need to establish immediate humanitarian provision, as well as consistent longer term support for the most vulnerable displaced Rohingya children.
Our work providing low profile education to Rohingya refugee children has been chosen as one of 20 projects selected as examples of best practice in refugee education.
Over half of the world's refugees are children, the majority of which experience the double jeopardy of losing both their homes and their education.
Promising Practices in Refugee Education (PPIRE) is a joint initiative of Save the Children, UNHCR, and Pearson. Launched in March 2017, the initiative set out to identify, document and promote innovative ways to effectively reach refugee children and young people with quality educational opportunities.
Methods from each chosen organisation were documented in the form of 5,000 word case studies, each recommending lessons for the sector going forward. You can read our case study on low profile education for Rohingya refugee children here. It highlights the need to find alternative solutions to improve the situations of the most vulnerable, and encourages practitioners to work closely with the local refugee communities, with an agile and creative approach.
On the 22nd of September, during the UN General Assembly, the Promising Practices initiative launched a report that synthesises the key findings and lessons learned from across these projects. Both the projects and the experience of implementing partners have been used to identify ten recommendations aimed at improving refugee education policy and practice.
Our Communications and Advocacy Manager, Esther Smitheram went to the event in New York to present on our work with an unregistered Rohingya refugee community.
She said “We were pleased to contribute to an initiative that is genuinely crowdsourcing information from a wide spectrum of areas and organisations, finding the best education methods for displaced children. Children on the Edge exists to help those children who are out of the spotlight and unreached by the larger agencies, so we welcomed the opportunity to highlight the plight of the Rohingya, especially at this time”.
Children on the Edge are currently seeking financial support to provide immediate humanitarian support for Rohingya refugee families in Bangladesh.
A catastrophic rise of violence and ethnic cleansing in Rakhine State, Myanmar has forced over 400,000 Rohingya across the border into Bangladesh into makeshift refugee camps and local communities.
These already impoverished communities, who are still taking stock of recent flood damage, are ill-equipped to host scores of traumatised new arrivals. The BBC report that despite larger aid agencies arriving with humanitarian aid, the government has forbidden distribution outside of the official camps.
These camps can support only 70,000 of the estimated 400,000 refugees, leaving hundreds of thousands to fend for themselves with no support at all. 60 percent of these arrivals are children, and many Rohingya refugees say they have had no contact with any international aid agency at all.
Children on the Edge are uniquely placed to respond to the current crisis and meet the needs of these most vulnerable refugees. We have seven years of experience working within the Rohingya community in an unregistered camp on the Bangladesh border. This work has been highlighted as a ‘Promising Practice’ in a recent report to the UN General Assembly, recommending best practice in refugee education for the sector.
We have built up strong local partnerships over this time, and these partners are best situated to provide support to unreached refugees through their skills, experience and networks.
Due to the limited help available in the official camps, many new arrivals go on to seek refuge further inland, in urban slums or enclave communities which are already comprised almost entirely of other Rohingya migrants. These areas are outside of the scope of the UN and larger agencies, and it is here that Children on the Edge is currently concentrating its efforts. Over the past few weeks alone, 50,000 Rohingya have sought shelter in the slum areas of Cox’s Bazar.
In these communities, we are responding to both the immediate relief needs of the new arrivals as well as preparing to provide services once the crisis passes and world's attention turns elsewhere. Given that there are already 200,000 newly-displaced, vulnerable children along the border, it is difficult to overstate the scale of the need.
In response, we will provide essentials such as rice, clean water, latrines and tarpaulin along with cash transfers to new arrivals in slum and enclave communities. By safeguarding the refugee’s water supply, protecting their health from unsanitary waste, providing basic shelter, and ensuring they have enough to eat, this programme will protect the lives of thousands of the most vulnerable Rohingya in this crisis.
In addition, we aim to build 20 safe spaces within these communities. These safe spaces will be child-friendly environments, where 1,200 severely traumatised children can go to re-establish a sense of normalcy, through a daily routine with trained and trusted adults. Here they can play, learn, receive a nutritious snack each day and begin to process what they have been through.
Our safe spaces will also give parents and carers a few hours each day, in the knowledge that their children are safe, to start finding solutions to their problems. They can use this time to search for work and food, find lost family members and begin to process what the future might hold.
Over 330,000 Rohingya refugees flee wave of violence in what the UN describe as a 'textbook example of ethnic cleansing'
As the humanitarian crisis evolves; Children on the Edge will be working with local partners to create a number of classrooms and safe spaces for some of the most vulnerable new arrivals. With thousands more refugees arriving every day, the needs far outweigh the resources available.
An already grim situation for Rohingya migrants in Bangladesh has reached dire new levels over the past month in what has turned into a humanitarian catastrophe for the Rohingya. A fresh wave of violence and atrocities in Rakhine State, Myanmar coincided with near record levels of flooding in the region. Over 330,000 have fled across the border into makeshift refugee camps and local communities, many of which are underwater.
Children on the Edge partners on the ground report the situation as ‘chaotic’ and ‘unpredictable', as they join the effort to provide aid to thousands of arrivals, fleeing what the UN is describing as a 'textbook example of ethnic cleansing'. Most of these have arrived in the Cox's Bazar area where we work. Local staff are estimating that with this new influx, there are now at least 500,000 Rohingya arrivals since the last spike of violence and displacement in October 2016.
The timing could not be worse for such a human catastrophe to unfold. Large swathes of the country remain underwater as the region has received near record rainfalls in the past month. Already impoverished Bangladeshi communities, which are still taking stock of flood damage, are ill-equipped to host scores of tramautised new arrivals, many of whom have had their homes burned by the Myanmar army and witnessed even more unspeakable acts.
The government in Naypyidaw has made little secret of its disdain for the nearly one million Rohingya in Myanmar, and this latest outbreak of violence appears to be another dark chapter in their larger campaign to force them out of the country.
We have been working with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh for the past seven years, educating children in Kutapalong camp, one of the largest makeshift camps on the border. Our classrooms provide a child-friendly, stable and safe space for these children to learn and recover from trauma.
Our years of experience working with the Rohingya community here makes us uniquely placed to respond to the current crisis. We are responding to both the immediate relief needs of the new arrivals as well as preparing to provide services once the crisis passes and world's attention turns elsewhere. There are 200,000 newly-displaced, stateless children who are extremely vulnerable, arriving in communities where we are working.
It costs just £4.30 a day to provide a safe space for 60 Rohingya refugee children. Make a donation today and help us support and protect as many of these children as we can.
“I don’t remember what life was like before coming to the camp”, says Azima, “but my friends tell me we would play and go swimming”.
Azima is nine years old and lives in a Rohingya makeshift refugee camp on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
Her mother told us about when they fled Myanmar due to the persecution of the Rohingya, saying “After the riots and looting started we were scared. When the violence came to our village we fled with only what we could carry. We walked one day to the water. Then took a boat to Bangladesh. Then we walked one more day”.
Azima is one of six children, her father has been missing for over two years after leaving to find work on a fishing boat. Her mother weaves fishing nets to try and earn enough money to feed the children, but this is a constant struggle.
When we talked with the Rohingya community back in 2010, the only thing they requested was education for their children. The official United Nations Kutupalong camp provided such services, but the overspilled makeshift camp, a sprawling mass of mud, stick and plastic shelters, had nothing. Not only this, but authorities would not permit permanent structures or formal schools for unregistered refugees.
For a long time, thousands of children wandered the camps, unoccupied and vulnerable. We made education possible in what looked like an impossible environment, by supporting the refugee community to build low-profile schools for their children. These 45 classrooms were built onto existing dwellings and are now educating 2700 children in the makeshift camp. We trained over 40 Rohingya refugees as teachers using a curriculum especially designed for refugee children who have missed out on education.
Over the last six years, these 2,700 Rohingya refugee children have received an education, in a safe and nurturing environment. Not only are they following a government approved curriculum and sitting exams, but, after what they have been through, they are developing their confidence and self worth.
To reach the most children, one child from each household attends school, and then shares their learning with their siblings, parents and friends. Azima’s mother says “Azima is a very hard worker. That is why we chose her to go to school. She is smart and helpful. She spends many hours teaching her brothers and sisters to read and write. It is very important for the future of my family that my children know more than I do. I never learned to read. Without the schools my children could only weave nets like me. That is not a good life. I hope we can do better”.
Azima is doing well, flourishing at the camp school and would love to be a teacher herself one day. In fact a 97% pass rate has recently been recorded, and she and her friends have also learnt skills to communicate with army officers, read vital health leaflets, negotiate better prices at the market and understand about the world by reading newspapers they find in the camp.
“I don’t leave the camp because I am afraid of the police” says Azima, “but I love to go to the school. Without it I would have nowhere to go. It’s only hard sometimes when I am hungry, but I love to see my friends. My teachers are good people and they work hard every day. My favourite teacher is my English teacher as he likes to make jokes!”
A new wave of violence against the Rohingya in October 2016 resulted in an additional influx of around 70,000 refugees to Bangladesh. It drew the eye of the international community and softened the government's position on unregistered Rohingya. We are optimistic that our education programme will now be recognised by the authorities and facilitated by UNICEF.
With children like Azima in Kutupalong makeshift camp receiving the services they should, Children on the Edge can replicate the model to support new Rohingya arrivals, as yet unable to access services.
You can help us to help these new arrivals by supporting our ‘Back to School’ campaign.
Getting children Back to School
School’s out for summer, but you will have seen plenty of ‘Back to School’ supplies in the shops and online; as children get kitted out for their return in September.
But getting ‘Back to School’ for the children we work with around the world is a lot more complicated than just buying pens, uniforms and packed lunch boxes. These children face enormous barriers to getting an education, but through our projects, we make it possible for them to access learning again, in a safe place.
We provide education for thousands of children like Azima, living 'on the edge' in refugee camps, slum communities and in some of the most remote parts of the world. Could you make a donation today to help us support more children like Azima?
Just £10 can provide exercise books and text books for ten Rohingya refugee children for a year in one of our camp schools in Bangladesh
‘Without the schools, nobody in my family could read or write’ - How education is bringing hope to Rohingya refugees
Described by the UN as “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities”, the Rohingya people from Rakhine state, Burma have faced generations of horrific anti-Muslim violence and abuse from the Burma authorities. As a result, thousands flee over the border in the hope of finding refuge in Bangladesh.
With official UN camps in Bangladesh at capacity, arrivals since 2005 have been denied official refugee status. They are forced to settle in makeshift border camps, and any provision for unregistered refugees is prohibited by the Bangladesh authorities.
On the request of the Rohingya community in one of these makeshift camps, we have provided education for 2,700 Rohingya refugee children through a low-profile approach.
Ahmed is 10 years old and lives in the makeshift Kutapalong refugee camp with his parents and six brothers and sisters. He attends one of the schools run by Children on the Edge in the camp. His family are Rohingya, and faced constant persecution by the authorities in Burma. They fled to Bangladesh during a surge of violence towards their people group in 2012.
His father says “We had a simple but happy life in Burma. I worked as a farmer and sometimes a fisherman. We were not rich, but we had everything we needed. Then the Rakhine mobs came to my village. They burned down my neighbour’s house. I did not wait to meet them. I took my family and ran. I have never met my neighbour again. We walked for two days to cross the border. Some mosques gave us food and water along the way. After we crossed, we walked another half day to Kutupalong camp. That first day we arrived I began building our house. I knew we had no other place to go”.
Ahmed does not remember much about home, as he was just five years old when they fled, but he remembers being happy and playing with his friends in the grove of coconut trees near his house, taking turns climbing the trees.
“All I really know is life in the camp. I get up at 5.00, finish my school homework and eat, go to the madrassa and then collect firewood if I can find any. Then I go to class. This is the best part of my day. I am lucky to learn, it gives me something to do each day. My favourite subject is English, but I can read and do maths, even my older brother can’t do this! If there is a newspaper I help my family understand what it says. I feel very proud to help them”.
To reach the most households in the camp, Children on the Edge gives a place to one child from each household, then each student will share as much of their learning as they can with their family and friends. Ahmed’s father says “Ahmed is a smart boy and works very hard. Without education, he will just be a labourer like me. I believe he can do anything he wants if he studies hard. Without the schools, nobody in my family could read or write. I am very thankful that I have one child who can do this. Maybe they can all find a better jobs than me because they can learn. He brings his books home and shares them with his brothers and sisters, so I am hopeful he can teach the other children. Now I am too old to learn these things, but they still can learn. Also, people in the community know they can ask my son to read or write something if they need. That makes me proud”.
Ahmed’s father tries to provide for the family by working as a daily labourer outside the camp. He does jobs that locals don’t want to do, but says that work is not always available and they are paid a pittance. Locals are unfriendly and he is often grabbed by the police who take any money he has earned.
Ahmed never leaves the camp, and feels sorry for his friends that can’t attend the school. “They have nowhere to go, and they can’t read like me. I try to teach them, but it is not easy. If I couldn’t attend the schools I would be sad”.
Ahmed feels that his future will be different because of the things he has learnt at the schools, he says “I know I can find a job because I can read, write, and do maths. And I know if I work very hard and learn many languages I can someday be a doctor in another country. Then I will take care of all my family. I love seeing my teachers, who are very smart, being with my friends and having books”.
His teacher says “We hope that one day the children will replace us to teach in the community and also in the world. That they will be able to keep the name of the Rohingya known in the world. If this doesn’t happen then we will disappear. We need them to ensure the education goes down each generation.”
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On Tuesday 30th May ‘Cyclone Mora’ hit Bangladesh's border region, wreaking havoc in the Rohingya refugee camps and destroying thousands of homes.
An estimated 500,000 Rohingya, a Muslim minority from Burma (Myanmar), have been fleeing from horrific human rights abuses, into Bangladesh for decades. UNHCR assists 33,000 Rohingya refugees in two official camps in Bangladesh, but there is an additional estimate of several hundred thousand undocumented Rohingya living in makeshift sites and host villages.
We work to provide education for 2,700 Rohinga children in one of the makeshift camps in this area. As most homes in the camps are made of mud, sticks and plastic, they offered little resistance to the strong winds.
It has been reported that in this region more than 17,000 houses were destroyed and more than 35,000 were damaged. A spokesperson for the UN has reported that they are ‘very under resourced’ to deal with the damage.
The cyclone comes just seven months after a new wave of violence from the Burma military caused a further 75,000 Rohingya refugees to cross the border into Bangladesh. These new arrivals were traumatised, vulnerable and many were wounded. They arrived to camps which had little or no resources to help them, and have been existing since this point in hastily constructed tents of bamboo and plastic which will have given no protection from this storm.
Visiting the camp today, John Littleton, our Asia Regional Manager said “The cyclone has damaged 70% of the houses in the camp. Sadly eight of our schools will need to be completely rebuilt and 18 schools need new roofs.”.
The storm has had a devastating impact on the entire Cox’s Bazar area, so around six of our schools for working children in Cox’s Bazar slum communities also need repairs due to wind and flooding. The total cost for repairs in both the camp and Cox’s Bazar community is estimated at between £7,000-10,000 and we are working to find these funds.
27 year old Hamida Begum told Reuters “"I hate being a Rohingya. We are being tortured in Myanmar. Now in Bangladesh, we have no rights. Nothing. After this cyclone, we don't have a roof. We are living under the sky. We have no future.”
Find out more about the work we do with the Rohingya and consider a donation to the project by clicking the button below.
Over 65,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar's Rakhine state since soldiers began intensive ‘counter-terrorism’ operations there in October. The level of human rights abuses has rocketed with countless reports of killings, rape, beatings and arson.
Tens of thousands have fled over the border to Bangladesh into the unofficial refugee camps, but the host communities are refugees themselves who have little to offer in terms of food and shelter.
For over 5 years now Children on the Edge have been working with Rohingya refugee children in the makeshift camps of Bangladesh. We provide education to 2,700 children in a safe place, with a child friendly approach and trusted adult presence.
The current surge of refugees into the camp that we work in has transformed a landscape already densely packed with sprawling makeshift shelters. The UN tracked about 22,000 arrivals in just one week, but those working locally estimate the number to be far higher.
John Littleton, our Asia Regional Manager visited the camp last week and has reported that “The level of desperation is palpable. Not only is the physical landscape changing as dozens of bamboo, plastic, mud and stick huts are built each day, but there are lines of women and elderly people sat along the main road begging, in an area that is already resource scarce. I have been coming here over 5 years now and never seen this before”.
Since their government passed the 1982 Citizenship Act, the Rohingya people have been denied access to citizenship and subjected to grave human rights abuses at the hands of the authorities and local population in Myanmar. For years, to escape this treatment, they have made perilous journeys at sea or fled across the borders, often to countries who, due to their own levels of poverty and overpopulation, do not welcome them.
The Rohingya community we work with have faced ongoing attacks and vandalism at the hands of a resentful local community, but the latest influx of refugees has prompted a different reaction. John describes how “There is a softening in the wider community, and local violence towards the Rohingya is subsiding as it is dawning on people that these are not ‘migrants’, they are refugees fleeing from serious systemised abuse. This is clear from the sheer numbers of people entering the camps, but also the visible level of abuse that these people have suffered. Families are arriving injured and bleeding, some without clothes, many in grief having witnessed the death of loved ones, this is not something you can ignore”.
Whilst in 2012 the persecution and abuse of the Rohingya came from from Buddhist militias that were backed by, but not overtly connected to the Myanmar government, the current atrocities are being perpetrated by organised soldiers in official uniform.
The schools facilitated by Children on the Edge are already at capacity, but the current focus is working with those children to create an atmosphere of safety and familiarity. Teachers are trained from within the camps, and given specific guidance on supporting children living through trauma.
In the face of everything they have witnessed this year the children are making great progress in their education. In our recent evaluation of the programme 92% of children in the schools exhibited signs of increased confidence and positive self-esteem.
We are continuing to invest in this work and are actively pursuing funds for the schools to ensure their sustainability, deliver high quality education and provide a protective environment for these children. If you would like to find out more about supporting these schools at this crucial time, then please read our project page, consider an online donation, or get in touch.
‘Do not allow child marriage in special cases’ - Civil society rally in Bangladesh to prevent backwards steps.
Despite signs of progress, UNICEF states in its latest report that Bangladesh continues to have one of the highest child marriage rates worldwide and the highest rate of marriage involving girls under 15. 52% of girls are married by their 18th birthday, and 18% by the age of 15.
Children on the Edge work with our local partners MUKTI in Cox’s Bazar, who over the past five years have intervened in about 20 child marriage cases in the communities where they work. In almost all these instances, through regular parents meetings and community engagement, we have been able to support the prevention of child marriages.
Bimal from MUKTI describes how “It is difficult to stop these cases from coming up as their cause is often rooted in deep-seated poverty, rather than a lack of education. Until the issues of poverty are addressed, child marriage will continue to be a threat for this generation.”
With poverty as a driver, it is a continuing challenge to encourage normative change where age of marriage is concerned. Reshmi is 14 years old and lives in Kutubdiapara slum. She says "I was behind in school but my relatives said it was not important, my neighbours said that it won’t help me to marry. One day, my mother told me I don’t need to go to school because I am now older. I got very upset and stopped regularly attending school, but a few days later I was surprised when she asked me if I wanted to read more.
It turned out she had already arranged my marriage, but that week had gone to a parents meeting with the MUKTI school. They had told her about child marriage and the risks it has for my body and my children. My mother changed her mind, she said “I cannot destroy my daughter’s life. There are so many families who don’t think like me, but I don’t care”. Now I am going to school again and not afraid of being married without my knowledge”.
In this climate it is an uphill struggle to bring such change, and the work of our partners could be further jeopardised by a potential backward step from the Bangladeshi Parliament. In the coming weeks, Parliament will be considering their Child Marriage Restraint Act 2016 which includes a special provision allowing marriage, with parental consent and judicial consent, for girls under 18 in ‘special cases’ or for ‘the greater good of the adolescent’.
The provision does not define a minimum age of marriage, what these special cases are or what the ‘greater good’ is, leaving these areas open to interpretation and abuse. Children on the Edge are part of the Girls Not Brides Network who argue that ‘…if the provision is included in the final act it would mark a step backwards for a country which has made significant strides towards ending child marriage over recent years’. It has also been argued by those working against child marriage both in Bangladesh and in the UK that, if the UK is going to the lead the way on this issue, then it too needs to adjust the double standards in its own laws.
On the 17th January, civil society organisations in Bangladesh rallied at the Central Shahid Minar, to protest against the inclusion of this special provision. A large number of development workers, social activists, doctors, lawyers, cultural activists, teachers, youth, girls and parents all took part to make the case.
Rachel Bentley, International Director at Children on the Edge says “Our partners work hand in hand with government organisations to address child marriage through their schools. They need the support of a firm legislative framework, prohibiting exceptions in order to continue protecting young women and girls in their communities”.
Find out more about the Child Marriage Restraint Act
Read about our work in Bangladesh and consider a donation.
Ask Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to lead the world on tackling child marriage.
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