Last week the human rights group Arakan Project released a report on children’s rights in Northern Arakan State, in western Burma. Arakan State is home to about 735,000 Rohingya Muslims, one of the most oppressed ethnic minorities in Burma.
The report stated that over 40,000 Rohingya minority children in Arakan State do not have Burmese (or any), citizenship, despite being born and having parents who live in Burma. The children’s stateless status, along with several other draconian laws that discriminate against Rohingya, are in fact severe human rights violations and can have dire consequences on their health.
According to the report, Rohingya children are not given birth certificates, and if they receive a government registration card (which many do not), there is no documentation of place of birth on the card, and therefore none of these children have proof they were born in Burma. Children born to parents that have not paid exorbitant fees to obtain a marriage license do not receive registration cards. Later in life these children cannot attend public schools, try to obtain travel permits, or get marriage licenses.
All Rohingya living in Burma, according to Arakan Project, are required to pay bribes to get permission to travel outside of their villages. Some are forced by the Army or border forces to build roads and guard and clean bases. Rohingya have been pushed off their land, and Arakan Project estimates that only 30% of Rohingyas have access to farmland, with the rest working mostly as casual day laborers.
These kinds of human rights violations have been linked to high rates of child malnutrition and increased maternal and child mortality in other ethnic minority areas in Burma. Human rights violations in Arakan State may have similar consequences. An FAO survey in 2009 found that 60% of children under 5 years old were moderately underweight and that 27% were severely underweight. The UN reported in 2010 that the under-5 mortality rate—the probability of a child dying before he or she reaches 5 years of age-- in Buthidaung township, Arakan State was 224/1000, higher than that of Afghanistan (at 144/1000 the country with the highest U5M), and much higher than the Burma national average.
Exceptionally poor living conditions and government discrimination against Rohingya have caused many to flee. However, the Rohingya who have left Arakan State have faced similarly bad conditions. PHR reported atrocious conditions in refugee camps in Bangladesh in 2010, and Rohingya attempting to flee by boat have been detained, shipwrecked, and allegedly set to drift at sea by the Thai Navy.
The history of abuses against Rohingya is continuing into 2012, despite the changes going on in other parts of Burma. The Arakan Project report highlights the need for the international community to maintain pressure on the Burmese government to extend the policy changes to ethnic minorities in addition to the Burmans living in the central part of the country.
Rohingyas have a right to belong to a state, they have a right to be free from forced labor and land confiscation, and they have a right to travel without restriction. The Burmese government should work to uphold these rights, in addition to fulfilling the right to health, of the Rohingyas and all other ethnic peoples in Burma.