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22 Feb 2018 16:04
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  •   Home > News > International

    Rohingya girls targeted by child traffickers at Bangladesh border crossings

    Tasmin was just 13 when she was separated from her family, snatched by people traffickers, taken to Dhaka and forced to work as a domestic maid. Sadly her story is not unique.

    Somewhere in the swampy forests and paddy fields that make up the border-land between Myanmar and Bangladesh, 13-year-old Tasmin was separated from her family and snatched by people traffickers.

    The teenaged Rohingya refugee never made it to the camps where the rest of her family now lives.

    Her father, Ali Akbar, spent months trying to learn what happened to his daughter.

    "We came to know that a woman took her away to Dhaka," Mr Akbar told the ABC.

    In a disheartening twist, he believes it was a woman from his own community that trafficked his daughter.

    "We heard from many sources that she was a Rohingya woman, not a Bangladeshi."

    Unexpectedly, his daughter called his mobile phone a few months later and confirmed that story.

    She told him she was working as a domestic maid in the capital Dhaka, and she was not allowed to leave the house where she worked.

    But the surprise phone call had been orchestrated with a sinister purpose.

    "They demanded another girl to give them," Mr Akbar said of the traffickers who had his daughter.

    "If I can give another girl for one month they will set free my daughter in six months."

    Not knowing any better, and not knowing how else to get his daughter back, he convinced a friend from his village to hand over his daughter to the same people.

    The friend willingly agreed, believing his girl would be returned in a month as promised.

    Now several months have passed, and both girls are still missing.

    "Her mother is crying all the time," Farim Alam, the father of the second girl, said.

    "I gave my daughter because I wanted to get back his daughter," he said.

    Mr Alam's daughter is just 12 years old.

    Children make up 60 per cent of the population at the refugee camps, and are often instant targets of trafficking and rape.

    Traffickers often pose as friendly helpers, promising a well-paying job or a good marriage to parents of children they want to take.

    Young girls are also being targeted by local men, who force them into sex and unwanted marriages.

    'He tortured me'

    Halima Noor, 18, was also separated from her family during the border crossing to Bangladesh.

    She says she was kidnapped by a local man and forced to marry him.

    "He took me away to his house and kept me there for three months," she said.

    "He was torturing me there a lot, it was unbearable.

    "When I got a chance to flee, I fled away from his house."

    Ms Noor is still married to the man who assaulted her, even though she hasn't heard from him in several months.

    In the conservative Rohingya community, that means she is unable to remarry and her abandonment is seen as a source of shame for her family.

    For the missing girls and young brides of the Rohingya refugee crisis, escaping Myanmar hasn't been the end of their peril.

    © 2018 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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