More than 16,000 Rohingya babies were born in refugee camps and informal settlements in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh from August 2017 – May 2018 after a spike in violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar forced thousands of families to flee their homes across the border.
“Around 60 babies a day are taking their first breath in appalling conditions, away from home, to mothers who have survived displacement, violence, trauma and, at times, rape,” said Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh. “This is far from the best start in life.”
As new waves of violence started in Rakhine State in August last year, there were widespread reports of rape and sexual violence against women and girls.
Women and children who are survivors of sexual violence are among the most vulnerable and marginalized of the more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, requiring specialized support, and women and girls may not come forward due to the risk of stigmatization and additional persecution.
“It is impossible to know the true number of babies who have been or will be born as a result of sexual violence,” added Mr. Beigbeder. “But it is vital that each and every new and expectant mother and every newborn receive all the help and support they need.”
Of all babies born in the camps from September 2017 through May 2018, only about 3,000 – or 1 in 5 – were delivered in health facilities. Estimates suggest that only 18 percent of mothers currently give birth in health centers.
Working with partners, UNICEF is providing antenatal and post-natal care to mothers and their babies. UNICEF case management workers regularly visit mothers in their shelters to assess their situation, provide support – more than 150 parent groups have been set up across the camps – and offer referral services.
UNICEF has also mobilized almost 250 community volunteers to make sure that a growing number of women visit health care facilities before and after giving birth.
UNICEF is also advocating for proper, legal birth registration for newborns, concerned that without this, babies will have trouble accessing the vital basic services they are entitled to, such as education, health care and other social benefits. The ‘invisibility’ of non-registered children increases their vulnerability and the risk that violations of their rights will go unnoticed. During times of conflict and unrest, providing newborn children with birth registration is a matter of urgent priority. If children are separated from their families, reuniting them is made more difficult by the lack of official documentation.
Dining for Women’s $100,000 Partnership Grant will make a difference in the health care and long-term well-being of more than 700,000 children currently needing humanitarian assistance and approximately 72,500 pregnant and lactating women who have arrived at the refugee camps. The funds will help strengthen referral systems to improve access to health centers and district hospitals for pregnant Rohingya women and babies. It also will help improve the quality of newborn care and safe delivery practices at 19 primary and three secondary health care facilities. Lastly, improving cold chain management systems, which ensures vaccines are kept at the proper temperature throughout their transit, will help prevent potential disease outbreaks.