Thousands of refugee children in Bangladesh at risk of trafficking, exploitation and abuse

Cox’s Bazar ­– Thousands of children are at risk of being trafficked, sexually abused or exploited in Bangladesh’s refugee camps, international children’s charity World Vision warns today.

“Child protection issues are at the centre of the refugee crisis which include child marriage and child exploitation, and human trafficking. As different child trafficking groups are active in the region, children and adolescents, especially girls are vulnerable to trafficking,” says Tanzina Akter, National Coordinator, Child Protection at World Vision Bangladesh.

Since late August, 605,000 people have crossed the border into Bangladesh, escaping violence in Myanmar. As many as 60 per cent of these are children and many have been separated from their parents.

“This means they are easy targets for traffickers. It also means their safety and security needs far more urgent care and attention than it is currently getting,” says Akter.

According to the UNHCR, international donors have pledged US$344 million to help deliver critical humanitarian assistance to refugees and host communities in Bangladesh.

“We need to see a commitment within this funding to address the specific issue of protecting children, keeping them safe and out of reach of those who would prey on them,” says Jared Berends, Senior Director of Operations and Resource Mobilisation at World Vision Bangladesh.

Razia* fled Myanmar with her husband and children. Her four-year-old daughter, Fiza*, was almost taken by a stranger in the middle of the night.

Razia and her husband tried their best to provide a secure space for their children, but with only a thin sheet of plastic, it’s impossible to keep the danger out.

“There are no permanent walls on the sides of the tent. From one side it’s completely open. The shelter walls are so thin anyone can rip it open,” Razia says.

“That night was the most shocking. It was dark but the moon radiated some light. We were all asleep. I keep the little one in the middle and the older children sleep on the sides. A man entered our tent from the side of the tent and picked up my 4-year-old.”

Luckily her elder daughter, seeing a silhouette of a stranger, let out a loud scream and woke up the family.

“When my daughter screamed, we all got up. The intruder left the child and ran. We were unable to catch him,” says Razia.

“We left to keep our children safe from the violence but after the incident we feel more vulnerable. We keep the children at home most of the time.”

“Razia’s experience gives us an insight into the danger facing all children, but especially those who have been separated from their parents,” says Berends.

“It takes being aware of the real risks facing refugee children, and taking intentional steps to scale up programmes to protect them.”

*names have been changed

Carey Lodge

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