The Suffering of 'Dogs': Rohingya Kids in Western Burma

The Suffering of 'Dogs': Rohingya Kids in Northern Arakan

Rohingya, Arakan, Rakhine, Muslim, Buddhist, conflict

Young Rohingya girls stay at a primary school several kilometers outside of Sittwe, where hundreds of Rohingyas took shelter from a storm in May. (Photo: Jpaing / The Irrawaddy)

MAUNGDAW — The 10-year-old struggles up the hill, carrying buckets filled with rocks. Though he tries to keep a brave face in front of his friends, his eyes brim with tears. Every inch of his body aches, he says, and he feels sick and dizzy from the weight.

“I hate it,” whispers Anwar Sardad. He has to help support his family, but he wishes there was a way other than working for the government construction agency.

He adds, “I wouldn’t have to live this life if I wasn’t a Muslim.”

The lives of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children like Anwar are growing more hopeless in Burma, even as the predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million wins praise for ending decades of dictatorship.

The Muslim ethnic group has long suffered from discrimination that rights groups call among the worst in the world. But here in northern Arakan state, home to 80 percent of the country’s 1 million Rohingya, it is more difficult now for children to get adequate education, food or medical care than it had been in the days of the junta. They have few options beyond hard labor, for a dollar a day.

The Associated Press’ visit to the area was a first for foreign reporters. Local officials responded with deep suspicion, bristling when Rohingya were interviewed. Police meetings were called, journalists were followed and people were intimidated after being interviewed, including children.

In a country torn by ethnic violence over the last 15 months, this is the one region where Muslim mobs killed Buddhists, rather than the other way around. And although only 10 of the 240 deaths occurred here, this is the only region where an entire population has been punished, through travel restrictions and other exclusionary policies.

Muslim schools known as madrassas have been shut down, leading to crowding in government schools, where Rohingya, who make up 90 percent of the population in this corner of the country, are taught by Buddhist teachers in a language many don’t understand.

In the village of Ba Gone Nar, where a monk was killed in last year’s violence, enrollment at a small public school has soared to 1,250. Kids ranging from preschoolers to eighth-graders are crammed so tightly on the floor it’s nearly impossible to walk between them.

“Our teachers write a lot of things on the blackboard, but don’t teach us how to read them,” says 8-year-old Anwar Sjak. “It’s very difficult to learn anything in this school.”

There are only 11 government-appointed teachers — one for every 114 students. On a day of the reporter’s visit, they fail to show up — a common occurrence.

Rohingya volunteers try to maintain order. One man circles the room with a rattan cane, silencing the chatter by whacking the trash-strewn concrete floor.

Few kids have chairs or desks. Many are coughing. Others talk among themselves, flipping through empty notebooks. They look up at newcomers with dazed stares.

“If I could be anything, I’d be doctor when I grow up,” Anwar says. “Because whenever someone in my family gets sick and we go to the hospital, the staff never takes care of us. I feel so bad about that.

“But I know that will never happen,” the third-grader adds. “The government wouldn’t allow it.”

Rohingya are not allowed to study medicine in Burma. There are no universities in northern Arakan, and Rohingya there have been barred from leaving the area for more than a decade. An exception that allowed a few Rohingya to study in Sittwe, the state capital, ended after last year’s bloodshed.

“They don’t want to teach us,” says Soyed Alum, a 25-year-old from the coastal village of Myinn Hlut who holds private classes in his home for Rohingya kids.

“They call us ‘kalar’ [a derogatory word for Muslim]. They say, ‘You’re not even citizens. Why do you need an education?’”

Every year, thousands of Rohingya flee northern Arakan and take perilous sea journeys in hopes of finding refuge in other countries. Because of the recent sectarian violence, in which 250,000 people, mostly Rohingya, were driven from their homes, right workers anticipate that one of the biggest exoduses ever will begin as soon as the monsoon season ends this month and seas in the region calm.

Some historians say Rohingyas have been in northern Arakan for centuries, though some living there now migrated from neighboring Bangladesh more recently. All are denied citizenship, rendering them stateless.

“They are all illegal,” state advocate general Hla Thein says flatly.

They remain barred from becoming citizens, or from working in civil-service jobs. No Rohingya birth certificates have been handed out since the mid-1990s. Rohingya children are “blacklisted” — denied even basic services — if their parents are not officially married or previously reached a two-child limit that is imposed exclusively on their ethnic group.

The official neglect commonly stretches into hatred. A government minder assigned by the central government to facilitate the AP’s trip asks why they are so eager to interview “dogs.”

When young Rohingya girls peer into the open windows of the crew’s vehicle, the minder bitterly mumbles crude sexual insults at them.

One thing the government does offer Rohingya kids is work, even if they are as young as 10. The Ministry of Construction, one of the bigger employers, offers them 1,000 kyat — a dollar — for eight hours of collecting and carrying rocks under the tropical sun.

Early in the morning, giant pickup trucks swing by villages to pick up dozens of sleepy-eyed boys — all of them Rohingya — and deliver them to riverbeds.

“See? They want to work,” says U Hla Moe, the administrator of Lay Maing.

Later that day, he will summon children who were interviewed by reporters into his office — for the AP’s security, he says. The children say he frightens them as he demands to know the questions they were asked and their answers.

Among the kids called in is Anwar Sardad, the 10-year-old stone carrier.

From 8 a.m. until dusk, he works alongside his twin brother and five or six other boys from their village, scooping up river rocks and briskly carrying them up a hill. They look more like little men than boys: No smiles. Each step sturdy and determined. Not an ounce of energy wasted.

Anwar is exhausted but works fast. He even stops to help friends when they struggle with their buckets.

Though the work is grueling, it will help the children and their families eat. The region has some of the country’s highest chronic malnutrition rates, according to a report released last year by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department. That deprivation severely affects mental and physical development.

The work of humanitarian organizations has been greatly limited in northern Arakan. A lack of vaccination coverage in the neglected area means they are exposed to almost every preventable childhood disease, says Vickie Hawkins, the deputy head of mission in Burma for Doctors Without Borders, which has worked in the area for 15 years.

If Rohingya children get critically ill, they might never make it to a hospital, either because their families cannot afford bribes demanded at checkpoints or because of the Sittwe travel ban.

Mohamad Toyoob, a 10-year-old Rohingya, has received medical care, but not the surgery that doctors have recommended.

He lifts up his shirt, pressing on the right side of his stomach, where he has felt sharp pain for the past three years. “I don’t know what’s wrong,” he says. “It feels like there is something inside.”

One diagnosis among the stack he has saved says “abdominal mass,” followed by a series of question marks.

The doctors Mohamad saw at a limited-capacity public hospital are unable to perform the potentially life-saving surgery they recommended. To get it, he would have to go to Sittwe, which is off-limits, or Bangladesh. The latter is possible, if his family pays hefty bribes, but he may not be able to get back home.

Money is another obstacle: His family can’t even afford his medication, let alone surgery.

He digs into a pocket and pulls out two little plastic bags filled with red, pink, yellow and light blue pills. They cost 200 kyat (20 cents) per day. To get the money, Mohamad works with other village kids at the riverbank, struggling to lift rocks. Sometimes it makes the pain worse.

“My father lost his job after the violence,” he says. “When he was working, we could afford it. But now we have nothing. I have to take care of myself.”


15 Responses to The Suffering of 'Dogs': Rohingya Kids in Northern Arakan

  1. First thing, we should not be using Rohinya ethnic as it does not exit and created by OIC backed group with long term agenda to create “Islamic Republic of Rohinya” and Sharia as law (no democracy, women lost freedom, men can have 4 wives and make as much kids as possible, anyone non Muslim will be used Sharia law on them by letter, like in Pakistan, etc..). They are just illegal muslim immigrants from Bangladesh staying in Myanmar over many many years, but that doesn’t qualify them to be citizenship automatically.
    If they want to stay in Myanmar, they have to integrate into our culture, language, the law and abide by them. Once they are qualified they should be given permanent resident and then only citizenship later (which can be stripped if anyone talked about replacing democracy with Sharia). Children are innocent and why are we letting them working? They should be in school and learn our language to integrate into our society as soon as possible and to teach their parents of democratic values and respect to other ethnic’s freedom an rights that they learned in school. Muslim should have freedom of religion like us but should not be Coercion their partner into converting to muslim.
    Madrassas financed by OIC (specially with redical Iman trained by OIC) should not be permitted (look at Madrassas in Pakistan financed by Saudi and OIC, breeding grounds for future Jihadists ready to die killing non-muslims as they are taught that they will go to heaven and meet Allah).
    We can only integrate them with education. We can’t have many generations with black days teething with revenge (look at Palestines with many generations treated like dogs by Isreal). Let’s be realistic. We can’t kicked out 800,000 peoples !
    Only if all parties have education, mutual respect and rights, tolerance, democratic freedom and rule of law, then we can live in peace.

  2. First thing, we should not be using Rohinya ethnic as it does not exit and created by OIC backed group with long term agenda to create “Islamic Republic of Rohinya” and Sharia as law (no democracy, women lost freedom, men can have 4 wives and make as much kids as possible, anyone non Muslim will be used Sharia law on them by letter, like in Pakistan, etc..). They are just illegal muslim immigrants from Bangladesh staying in Myanmar over many many years, but that doesn’t qualify them to be citizenship automatically.
    If they want to stay in Myanmar, they have to integrate into our culture, language, the law and abide by them. Once they are qualified they should be given permanent resident and then only citizenship later (which can be stripped if anyone talked about replacing democracy with Sharia). Children are innocent and why are we letting them working? They should be in school and learn our language to integrate into our society as soon as possible and to teach their parents of democratic values and respect to other ethnic’s freedom an rights that they learned in school. Muslim should have freedom of religion like us but should not be Coercion their partner into converting to muslim.
    Madrassas financed by OIC (specially with redical Iman trained by OIC) should not be permitted (look at Madrassas in Pakistan financed by Saudi and OIC, breeding grounds for future Jihadists ready to die killing non-muslims as they are taught that they will go to heaven and meet Allah).
    We can only integrate them with education. We can’t have many generations with black days teething with revenge (look at Palestines with many generations treated like dogs by Isreal). Let’s be realistic. We can’t kicked out 800,000 peoples !
    Only if all parties have education, mutual respect and rights, tolerance, democratic freedom and rule of law, then we can live in peace.

    • well. obviously and reportedly, they have been living within the so-called boundary of what is unfortunately known as Union of Burma longer than you care to recognize. So, they are a part of Union of Burma. So far, they are for some reason living on the mercy of the Buddhist while they should be proactive in demanding equal rights, by force if necessary. One thing human and animal alike all over the world understands but won’t admit is that words when not supported by force is useless. Look at the treatment toward unarmed Rohingya, partially-armed Kachin and fully-armed Wa by the Burman. See the difference?

  3. Dogs”So-Called Rohingya(Bangli)” are already hopeless in their society when they have born originally in Islamic Sharia Law in Muslim society. Reporter( Irrawaddy News Agency), you don’t need to report about that because they are originally victimized in their society. it’s not our problem, it’s their so-called Rohingya (Bangali) problem themself . it’s obviously obvious that you are reporting bias report because you have gotten so much funding from OSI ( Open Society Islamic(Institute). Irrawaddy News Agency, We really warn you to report genuinely on the report whenever you post a news regarding with them. You are often reporting bias and propaganda news for So-called Rohingya (Bangli). Irrawaddy News Agency is not an independent news agency. It is a So-called Rohingya (Bangli) News Agency. We will take legally action if you don’t stop bias and propaganda report on the So-called Rohingya(Bangli).

    • Too much Cool Aid, I suppose.
      How are you going to take legal action against this magazine? To get a restraining order? SMH.

      If you find articles in this online space offensive, you simply don’t have to read them. Why do you assume that Irrawaddy is obliged to only publish articles that suits your cursory knowledge about history? Another example of burma’s failed education system!

  4. Dogs”So-Called Rohingya(Bangli)” are already hopeless in their society when they have born originally in Islamic Sharia Law in Muslim society. Reporter( Irrawaddy News Agency), you don’t need to report about that because they are originally victimized in their society. it’s not our problem, it’s their so-called Rohingya (Bangali) problem themself . it’s obviously obvious that you are reporting bias report because you have gotten so much funding from OSI ( Open Society Islamic(Institute). Irrawaddy News Agency, We really warn you to report genuinely on the report whenever you post a news regarding with them. You are often reporting bias and propaganda news for So-called Rohingya (Bangli). Irrawaddy News Agency is not an independent news agency. It is a So-called Rohingya (Bangli) News Agency. We will take legally action if you don’t stop bias and propaganda report on the So-called Rohingya(Bangli).

    • Too much Cool Aid, I suppose.
      How are you going to take legal action against this magazine? To get a restraining order? SMH.

      If you find articles in this online space offensive, you simply don’t have to read them. Why do you assume that Irrawaddy is obliged to only publish articles that suits your cursory knowledge about history? Another example of burma’s failed education system!

  5. Funny thing is still president of Myanmar was expecting Nobel peace prize.

  6. Funny thing is still president of Myanmar was expecting Nobel peace prize.

  7. Shameful beyond words, wherever in the world this kind of discrimination occurs. It makes me ashamed to be a human being. When will we learn that all living beings, let alone all people, have the same basic needs, and respect others’ rights as we would want our own respected?

  8. Shameful beyond words, wherever in the world this kind of discrimination occurs. It makes me ashamed to be a human being. When will we learn that all living beings, let alone all people, have the same basic needs, and respect others’ rights as we would want our own respected?

  9. all of the media outlets with the Burmese as the target audience report the pogrom in Rakhine as internal communal incidences. in reality, it is the one-sided oppression of the Muslim by the Buddhists. So, the muslims should make these reports come true by making the events ‘inter’, and make the burmese understand how it feels to be on the run for life.

  10. Gentile Vs Jew
    Arakanese Buddhist Vs Arakanese Muslim
    Un-Buddhist
    All of this will put Hitler to shame
    Shame!
    Shame!

  11. It’s a deliberate act of genocide, withdraw food, medical and educational services. Temper that with the racist belief in ideology of I am better than you and you will have the Rohinya situation anywhere in the world. It’s revenge and dehumanization of people regardless. Educational services provided are not teaching the children, what crimes besides being born to that life have they done? So far it’s been about politics the answers, faith and religion.
    The exploitation of child labourers. This is one level short of slavery overseers’ are the officials that intimidated children! All in the name of what justification the dehumanization of people?
    One response was if they want to stay they should integrate into your society however you missed the part where the teachers don’t teach so the children can understand, your response is part of the problem. Get them an education, allow them to decide if they want to go, requires removal of traveling restriction. Actually educate them in the language you want them to adopt instead of pretending to educate these children. Remove the cultural markers, remove the political and the religious markers. Put your own relations in their place and ask yourself. Would I permit such a travesty of dehumanization? Would I as a person, brought to the place of just being a person allow my own child(ren) to endure such treatment?
    The not my problem one response, what happens if dominant society becomes the subdominant society would it become your problem then? If you had the opportunity to take measures to show them the proper treatment of a person, why have you not done this? Revenge, against children. That is all I am able to see. Pathetic. It is your problem, be part of the proactive solution. Ensure your government allows them the ability to be assimilated into your society if they so choose.
    Threats from the person that stated not our problem. You should hang your head in shame. I hope they sing the article out to the world. Fear of exposure of the act of genocide. That is what is feared. Children being exploited. That is what you fear, that it might be you that carries the rocks up the hill if forces do something about it. No fear though most are apathetic you won’t have to carry the rocks .. just the child exploited does.
    Take away the imposed cultural markers, religious and political .. just see the children. I see children enslaved to a culture that sees itself superior, child slavery endorsed and supported for a dollar a day with no method to break free.

  12. Assalamualaikhum warahmatullahay wabarkatahu

    Dear all Brothers
    How we are do for our rohingya.solution

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