Lost Childhood - An insight into Rohingya parent-child separation in Bangladesh

In April 2019, Xchange investigated Rohingya parent-child separation in Shamlapur, Bangladesh. The findings are presented in this video-report.
To read the full article with links, click here: http://xchange.org/reports/LostChildhood2019.html#video

During the data collection and analysis phase of the Rohingya Survey 2019, situations where Rohingya children had gone missing in Bangladesh were brought to Xchange’s attention; nine in ten respondents believed there were families in the refugee camps who had had a child go missing since arriving. Moreover, through interviews with key informants in the field, cases of child labour and irregular adoption were exposed. Drawing upon these findings, Xchange deemed it appropriate to carry out a follow-up study investigating forms of parent-child separation in an effort to further understand the phenomenon.
There are an estimated 500,000 Rohingya children currently living in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, 300,000 of which are between the ages of 3 and 14. Child labour in Bangladesh remains a pressing concern, with state protection being insufficient in effectively combatting the issue. The Bangladesh Labour Act (2006) targets child labour, however, it does not cover informal sectors, such as domestic work, or the number of hours that children are allowed to engage in work. The Education Act (2016) aimed to resolve this problem by making education compulsory until eighth grade (or 14 years old). Rohingya children, however, live in a legal limbo as the Myanmar government considers them as ‘illegal immigrants’ from Bangladesh. Though many have been living in exile for decades, only a little over 33,000 Rohingya have received official refugee status. The rest are recognised by the Bangladeshi government as ‘undocumented Myanmar nationals’ (or ‘Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals’ (FDMNs)) which prevents them from benefiting from the child protection mechanisms available to Bangladeshi nationals. The government, however, began registration of stateless Rohingya last summer, together with UNHCR; over 270,300 have been registered in the settlements of Ukhia and Teknaf so far.
As non-nationals, Rohingya children are prevented from attending Bangladeshi schools and rely on the insufficient educational opportunities provided by NGOs present in camps. Moreover, the lack of freedom of movement prevents their parents from accessing the formal labour market, which means food and financial insecurity is a reality for many; 92% and 80% of Rohingya interviewed for the Rohingya Survey 2019 were either unsatisfied or very unsatisfied with the job opportunities available to them and the income their families made, respectively.
Given the challenges faced by families in the camps, irregular adoptions and child labour are unsurprising consequences; though the former is a highly underreported phenomenon, it is supported by anecdotal evidence. It has been estimated that 60 children were born per day in refugee camps in Bangladesh last year, the majority of which were born at home. This can mean that in addition to Rohingya babies being born without a citizenship, very few births in the camps are formally registered, thereby diminishing the available protection mechanisms even further.
This report aims to to explore parent-child separation in Bangladesh by drawing on cases of missing children, irregular adoption, and child labour.
Throughout this report, the term child labour is used as defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO): “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.”



In late April 2019, Xchange conducted in-depth interviews with Rohingya parents whose children were no longer living with them. The interviews were carried out with the use of a semi-structured interview guide which was informed by informal discussions with Rohingya refugees familiar with the topic of parent-child separation among their communities.
The sample comprised of ten Rohingya mothers and one Rohingya father of children who were either given up for adoption at a young age (three cases), given to another family for labour (seven cases), or had gone missing (one case). The sample included both ‘old’ Rohingya – those who arrived in Bangladesh prior to the 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar – and ‘new’ Rohingya – those who arrived in Bangladesh following the 2017 military crackdown. Those interviewed were between the ages of 27 and 55 and their children were 12 years old or under at the time the separation occurred. All participants’ names have been replaced with pseudonyms.
FatimaGave her son up for adoption
BaanuGave her daughter up for adoption
HafsaHas a daughter involved in labour
KhadijaHas a daughter involved in labour
JamilaHas a daughter involved in labour and a son who was involved in labour in the past
HalimaHad a son gone missing
HasinaHas a daughter involved in labour
SameeraGave her son up for adoption
ShahidahHas a daughter involved in labour
RumanaHas a son involved in labour
Jafar AlamHas two daughters involved in labour

The interviews were carried out during a two-day period at an undisclosed location in Shamlapur, Cox’s Bazar. Participant recruitment was done with the help of a block majhi. The participants were informed in advance that a team of researchers was interested in understanding why their children were no longer living in their household. They were informed that participation in the interviews was voluntary and that they had the right to withdraw from the study at any time. Before starting the interviews, participants gave their verbal consent for taking part in the study.
The data collection team was comprised of five people: two Xchange researchers, two Rohingya cultural mediators, and a videographer. The cultural mediators undertook a two-day ad-hoc training session, where they were trained in interviewing techniques, ethical considerations during research, and were instructed on how to address sensitive topics. Each interview was conducted by one researcher with the help of one or both interpreters; to achieve a higher level of rapport between researcher and participant, and facilitate more accurate interpretation, both cultural mediators were present for the majority of the interviews.
All interviews were carried out in Rohingya language and were audio recorded. Once the data collection was finished, the interviews were translated from Rohingya to English and transcribed verbatim. The transcripts were subsequently coded and analysed thematically.
In addition to the written analysis, the research team aimed at providing awareness on the issue by filming the interviews and creating a short video-presentation of the findings. Verbal consent from participants was collected explicitly for the videos.


With only a few days available to the research team to conduct all interviews, time constraint was the biggest limitation of the study. Moreover, questions and replies were quickly translated from English to Rohingya and from Rohingya to English during the interviews. Hence, maintaining the flow of the interview and building rapport with the interviewees was a challenge in some of the interviews.
None of the 11 participants withdrew from the study prematurely. However, a twelfth interview was initiated but stopped due to the participant’s challenge in understanding the purpose of the interview and the questions. Before that, another woman was turned away before the interview started as she did not fit the criteria of the target population.
Due to the nature of the study, some of the questions asked were highly sensitive and it is possible that social desirability bias was present as a way for the interviewees to preserve their own personal image or that of their community.


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