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.
Winter in Syria can be bitter, with extended periods of snow and temperatures below zero. Many families who have fled their homes because of the conflict, and those in villages affected by conflict are living without enough clothing, fuel or food to survive.
The partners we work with in Lebanon are currently making trips across the Syrian border to the Eastern suburbs of Damascus to provide food and fuel to 160 internally displaced families enduring freezing conditions. Our partners have found many more families in need - more that they can currently help - and they would like to do more.
If you'd like support this work, you can make a donation to help a Syrian family. We will make sure this money goes directly to help Syrian families survive the winter.
Nuna Matar who leads the project describes how ”Each person, each family is a living tragedy. Many have lost wives, husbands and children to torture, rape, and death”. The team there have identified a large number of unaccompanied street children who they would like to provide support for, if they can secure funding in the coming weeks.
Nuna goes on to say “We are seeing first hand the tragedy in the Damascus area where a main spring in the wadi Barada area that supplies water to the capital city was targeted by rebels and was damaged, leaving 4 million people in Damascus without water. On top of that Damascus is accusing rebels of polluting water supplies with diesel and water authority has cut supplies to Syrian capital”.
Recently a small group of friends who support Children on the Edge clubbed together to support a Syrian family by donating enough money to pay for fuel and heating each month.
They said “It’s just a simple way that we felt we could make a difference, without going through a lot of bureaucracy. We know our support is going direct to families that need it, through a small local organisation that is responding directly and quickly to the current need".
It costs just £40 to provide a Syrian family with enough food to survive, and fuel to keep warm, for a month.
If you feel you, or a group you are part of, would like to make a donation to help a Syrian family through the winter, then please make a one-off, or regular donation here.
On Friday 3rd February and Saturday 4th February we will be away at The Body Shop at Home conference, raising more than £10,000 for Children on the Edge, by selling raffle tickets and goody bags.
We’re looking for two more willing volunteers to join our team to help us over the weekend. Can you help? Or do you know someone who can?
You'd be joining Ben and Eloise, plus others from our head office for a fun-packed couple of days on the team trip to Telford, in the Midlands. On Friday 3rd February we leave Chichester around 9am and travel to Telford to set up our stand at the conference centre. Saturday will be a busy day, and volunteers will help us to sell raffle tickets run our stall selling goody bags to The Body Shop’s consultants.
We'll show you everything you need to know; you just need to have lots of enthusiasm and a friendly attitude!
It's a great event, with a brilliant buzz as we get to meet more than 1,000 Body Shop consultants who love Children on the Edge.
Your help will ensure we maximise this incredible opportunity to raise as much money as we can. With enough help, the weekend should raise more than £10 000, which is enough to cover the costs running our Early Childhood Development Centre (ECD) in Loco, Uganda for a whole year.
What you need to know
If you are interested, or would like to find out more, please call Eloise, our Fundraising Manager on 01243 538530 or email email@example.com.
Children on the Edge supports children to realise their rights, be free to express their views if they would like to, and influence decisions in matters effecting them. It’s a central part of the Convention of the Rights of the Child and not just a theory, but something that enables their active participation.
In Bangladesh where we support Community Schools for Working Children, we have established child councils to represent the voices of their friends and contribute to decisions about the running of the schools. They have not only been growing in confidence and self expression, but they are actively involved in making their environment creative and colourful and ensuring that play is a central part of the life of the schools.
To do this they have organised a regular ‘Play-day’. Each Thursday the child council members divide into different groups and arrange various creative activities, fun and games. As well as this, they spend time making their environment clean and beautiful, both at home and at school. This involves cleaning, gardening and making decorations for classrooms.
One representative from a child council said “Most of the time we are busy helping our parents with our domestic and outside work, after study we have very limited scope to play. We feel bored. Thursday brings different feelings for us”. Another said “I become independent on this day. I mix with all teachers and my friends freely. I can take something to play as my choice. I get more joy on this day.”
The teachers also see the benefit of having play as a priority in the week. Asma says “Playing day is a big gathering for us all together. Students are chirping, playing and dancing. We just love it. Having this day means that children gets refreshment, become self-motivated to attend school regularly and study too. It also benefits their friendships and the sports competitions boost their confidence in doing their best”.
The day not only improves wellbeing, relationships, confidence and motivation, but it has an impact in the wider community. Nazia is 10 years old and lives in Kutubdiapara slum. She has a brother and three sisters. Her father is a mechanic and her mother sometimes makes pickle to sell at the market.
Nazia says “I recently made a vegetable garden at home with my mother. I have planted radish, brinjal, vegetable leaf and tomato. Every week this brings money to support my family. I have been encouraged in how to do this from my school activities. There is a flower and vegetable garden which I have created there with my friends. This made me realise I can do it in my home and I share it with my mother.
My mother said because I am younger I am lots of hard work, but she was happy to see my interest in the garden and helped me to make it. Now I have a nice vegetable garden and my mother is saying all the time; “Education is a big thing!”. I am very happy. I have done something for my family”.
Cleaning at home and at school has changed the mindset of the children and also made a difference in the areas where they live. Talking to one group of parents (Imam, Habibullah, Senuara, Rina and Parvin) who live in Amtolirchara area, they described how the children have changed the area:
“In our community there is a Mukti school and our children study there. Every two months we attend a parent’s meeting where we learn many things to do with looking after children and hygiene. We try to maintain it, but most of the community people are using an open toilet. It is polluting to the environment and our lives. Our children do a day where they play but also learn about having a clean environment. Sometimes they say to us how in their learning books there is a good latrine and ask why are we are not making one? Our children feel uncomfortable using the open one. We were unaware about this before, so now many of us in our community are using the sanitised latrine. Our children and the school have changed many of our views.”
Mamun Rashid who oversees the child councils says “We asked the child councils to tell us what was in their minds and what they wanted to do. They said they wanted to live clean and try and make their environment nice, they were motivated to do all of this themselves. They have become courageous”.
The Community schools currently provide education for 900 working children, enabling them to learn, rest and play with their friends for a few hours each day.
You can find out more by going to our project page and support this work by making a donation, signing up as a regular donor or taking on a challenge!