Stateless Children in Western Burma

Last week the human rights group Arakan Project released a report onchildren’s rights in Northern Arakan State, in western Burma. Arakan State ishome to about 735,000 Rohingya Muslims, one of the most oppressed ethnic minorities in Burma.

The report stated that over 40,000 Rohingya minoritychildren in Arakan State do not have Burmese (or any), citizenship, despitebeing born and having parents who live in Burma. The children’s statelessstatus, along with several other draconian laws that discriminate againstRohingya, are in fact severe human rights violations and can have direconsequences on their health.

According to the report, Rohingya children are not givenbirth certificates, and if they receive a government registration card (whichmany do not), there is no documentation of place of birth on the card, andtherefore none of these children have proof they were born in Burma. Childrenborn to parents that have not paid exorbitant fees to obtain a marriage licensedo not receive registration cards. Later in life these children cannot attendpublic 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 theirvillages. Some are forced by the Army or border forces to build roads and guardand clean bases. Rohingya have been pushed off their land, and Arakan Projectestimates that only 30% of Rohingyas have access to farmland, with the restworking mostly as casual day laborers.

These kinds of human rights violations have been linked tohigh rates of child malnutrition and increased maternal and child mortality in other ethnic minority areas in Burma. Human rightsviolations in Arakan State may have similar consequences. An FAO survey in 2009found that 60% of children under 5 years old were moderately underweight andthat 27% were severely underweight. The UN reportedin 2010 that the under-5 mortality rate—the probability of a child dying beforehe or she reaches 5 years of age– in Buthidaung township, Arakan State was224/1000, higher than that of Afghanistan (at 144/1000 the country with thehighest U5M), and much higher than the Burma national average.

Exceptionally poor living conditions and governmentdiscrimination against Rohingya have caused many to flee. However, the Rohingyawho have left Arakan State have faced similarly bad conditions. PHR reported atrocious conditions in refugee camps in Bangladesh in 2010, and Rohingya attemptingto 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 reporthighlights the need for the international community to maintain pressure on theBurmese government to extend the policy changes to ethnic minorities inaddition to the Burmans living in the central part of the country.

Rohingyas have a right to belong to a state, they have aright to be free from forced labor and land confiscation, and they have a rightto travel without restriction. The Burmese government should work to upholdthese rights, in addition to fulfilling the right to health, of the Rohingyasand all other ethnic peoples in Burma.

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