Expert comment: Female Rohingya refugees at risk of forced marriage

Dr Zaki Wahhaj

Dr Zaki Wahhaj from the School of Economics discusses the risk that young female Rohingya refugees are at increased risk of forced marriage as a result of their plight.

‘In recent weeks the plight of Rohingya refugees who have arrived in Bangladesh to escape violence in the Rakhine province of Myanmar has received wide coverage in the international news media. The United Nations has documented graphic accounts of sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls by Myanmar security forces.

‘Nearly half of the 400,000 Rohingya refugees who have arrived in Bangladesh are children and, according to the Unicef, over 1,200 “unaccompanied children are at particular risk for human trafficking, sexual abuse, child labor and child marriage.

‘The Rohingya refugees are in a part of the world where a family’s sense of ‘honour’ is often tied to the perceived ‘purity’ of their daughters and brides. And, in a political conflict, this cultural belief can be turned into a weapon to be used against the adversary.

‘Even in normal times, arranged marriages for adolescent girls is widely prevalent in South Asia used as a means to protect them against ‘sexual dishonour’, but families experiencing distress (particularly due to natural disasters) are even more prone to marry off young daughters to reduce their economic burden.

‘Therefore, the Rohingya children who have recently arrived in Bangladesh, even those accompanied by their families, face a high risk of early marriage. Recent research has documented that it has adverse life-changing consequences for the girls who experience it.  Ongoing interventions in Bangladesh suggests that a possible solution to minimizing these risk is the creation of safe spaces for adolescent girls within the refugee camps, providing education and training under the supervision of aid agencies.’


Article by Dan Worth, University of Kent Press Office