More than 16,000 Rohingya babies were born in Rohingya camps and informal settlements in Cox’s Bazar in the nine months since Myanmar forced thousands of families to flee their homes across the border from its Rakhine State.
“Around 60 babies are born a day and are taking their first breath in appalling conditions, away from home, to mothers who have survived displacement, violence, trauma and, at times, rape,” said UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh Edouard Beigbeder.
“This is far from the best start in life.”
It has been nine months since the wave of violence forced thousands to flee, conditions for pregnant women remain dire, especially for survivors of sexual violence, says UNICEF.
Bangladesh currently has a Rohingya population, which is far more than Bhutan’s entire population.
Bhutan has around 800,000 people whereas Bangladesh had to give shelter to some 1.2 million Rohingyas.
As new waves of violence started in Rakhine 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 marginalised of the more than 800,000 Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar.
They require specialised support but women and girls may not come forward due to the risk of stigmatisation and additional persecution.
“It’s impossible to know the true number of babies who have been or will be born as a result of sexual violence,” added Beigbeder.
“But it’s vital that each and every new and expectant mother and every newborn receive all the help and support they need.”
Of all the babies born in the camps since September, only about 3,000 - or 1 in 5 - were delivered in health facilities.
Estimates suggest that only 18 per cent of mothers currently give birth in health centres.
Working with partners, UNICEF is providing antenatal and postnatal 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 them referral services.
It has also mobilised almost 250 community volunteers to make sure that a growing number of women visit the healthcare facilities before and after giving birth, according to UNICEF.
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.
The ‘invisibility’ of non-registered children increases their vulnerability and the risk that violations of their rights will go unnoticed, UNICEF said.
During the times of conflict and unrest, providing newborns with birth registration is a matter of urgent priority, it said.
Children unregistered at birth or without identification documents are often excluded from accessing education, healthcare and social security.
If children are separated from their families, reuniting them is made more difficult by the lack of official documentation.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the repatriation agreement on 23 November 2017.
On 16 January, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a document on ‘Physical Arrangement’ which will facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland from Bangladesh.
The ‘Physical Arrangement’ stipulates that the repatriation will be completed preferably within two years from the start of repatriation.
Bangladesh and Myanmar will hold the second meeting of the Joint Working Group (JWG) in Dhaka on Thursday.
Bangladesh, according to officials, will “give a push” for expediting the verification and Rohingya repatriation process as little progress is seen in this regard since the handover of the first Rohingya list to Myanmar.