It was 1am in the largest refugee camp in the world. Most people were sleeping.
But on the muddy hillsides of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, crowded with thousands of tents made from sticks and plastic, a would-be child trafficker prowling through the dark and humid night stopped at *Razia’s tent.
He entered the tent through its open side. Razia and her husband had the smallest child sleeping between them, while the older children slept on either side. The intruder bent down and picked up little Fiza, Razia’s four year old daughter, and accidentally grazed another daughter. She woke in fright and saw a stranger faintly lit by the moon and screamed, waking the family.
“When my daughter screamed, we all got up. The intruder left the child and ran. We were unable to catch him,” says Razia.
Razia and her family are among hundreds of thousands of people who fled horrific violence by Myanmar military and local vigilantes in Rahkine State, Myanmar. Since late August, 605,000 people have crossed mountains and rivers to reach the safety of Bangladesh. As many as 60% of these are children.
In the congested camps refugees face a fresh danger: human traffickers.
“We left to keep our children safe from the violence but after the incident we feel more vulnerable,” says Razia, “We keep the children at home most of the time.”
World Vision has called for ‘urgent care and attention’ to the issue. Along with other agencies, World Vison staff are doing all they can to keep the predators out and protect the children, including the establishment of safe spaces for children which provide psychosocial support to children who have fled violence in Myanmar.
Child protection issues are at the centre of the worldwide refugee crisis. Displaced children are particularly vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and exploitation, and children fleeing Myanmar are no exception.
World Vision’s Senior Director of Operations and Resource Mobilisation Bangladesh, Jared Berends, said that Razia’s experience gave an insight into the danger facing all children – especially those separated from their parents.
“We must take intentional steps to scale up programs to protect refugee children,” he says.
This Universal Children’s Day on November 20 is an important time to advocate, promote and celebrate children’s rights – particularly the right to be free from violence. It also marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention of the Rights of the Child in 1989 by the United Nations General Assembly. Two of the most important clauses enshrined in the convention that protect children against violence and trafficking are:
The Convention of the Rights of the Child is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. Only three countries – Somalia, South Sudan, and the United States – are not signatories to this agreement.
In recognition of the right of children to be protected from violence, World Vision has launched a global campaign called It Takes A World to End Violence Against Children. Through the campaign, World Vision is working with communities across the globe to stop trafficking, child marriage, exploitation and violence in the home.
It Takes a World addresses violence against children by:
Undertaking community education on the child’s right to be protected;
• Working directly with children to empower them against abuse and assert their rights;
• Strengthening families to prevent domestic violence;
• Working closely with community leaders and networks to help them address violence against children
• Advocating to and working closely with government agencies to strengthen their responses to addressing and preventing violence against children
Universal Children’s Day provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the fundamental right of the child to grow up free from violence, exploitation and abuse, and to consider how we can contribute to the global realisation of this right.