“I don’t know why he bit me,” Rahima said, her hand hovering over the scar. “There are many things I don’t understand.”
Denied citizenship by Myanmar’s government and targeted by what the United States calls ethnic cleansing, the Rohingya are among the most mistreated people on earth. And within this traumatized population, women are uniquely vulnerable. All too often, a Rohingya woman is fated to be passed, like chattel, from man to man — father to husband, soldier to sex trafficker — even in the supposed safety of the refugee camp.
The mostly stateless Rohingya have been sequestered and preyed upon by Myanmar’s military for years. Human rights groups have long accused the Tatmadaw, as the country’s security forces are known, of regular assault of Rohingya girls and women. (The security forces have been accused of that pattern with women of other ethnic minorities as well.)
But the latest campaign of gang rape against the Rohingya has been so brutal and systematic that Pramila Patten, a United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict, deemed it “a calculated tool of terror aimed at the extermination and removal of the Rohingya as a group.”
Myanmar’s government has denied any instances of sexual assault. Several officials have suggested that Rohingya women are too unattractive to merit attention from Tatmadaw soldiers.
As these survivors of sexual violence flood across the border into Bangladesh — the fastest outflow of refugees in a generation — they often arrive bruised and alone. Thousands of Rohingya men were killed on the spot or rounded up by Myanmar’s soldiers, and some others are believed to have stayed behind to join the Rohingya insurgent movement.
Doctors Without Borders estimated this month that at least 6,700 Rohingya men, women and children met violent deaths in Myanmar from late August to late September. Nearly 70 percent of the victims died of gunshot, the medical aid group said, adding that its mortality figure was almost certainly an underestimation.
With so many men missing, single mothers now head 17 percent of Rohingya households in refugee camps in Bangladesh, according to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Januwara’s husband died in the village of Tula Toli, where hundreds of Rohingya are believed to have been massacred by the Tatmadaw in late August and early September. She escaped to Bangladesh with her 4-year-old daughter and 18-month-old niece, whose parents were also killed.
Her story, like that of others, is based on her personal testimony but was vetted by international agencies and is consistent with accounts from other Rohingya.
There is no money to buy milk powder or other essentials, and the fact that the children are girls is “a burden,” said Ms. Januwara, who uses only one name.
“If they were boys, I could send them out to work,” she said. “But girls, all they can do is become servants when they reach 10 years old. Then they will only get enough money to feed themselves, not me.”
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