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Friday, March 1, 2024

‘I really feel trapped’: Scores of underage Rohingya women compelled into abusive marriages in Malaysia

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — In a bed room in Malaysia that has develop into a jail, the 14-year-old woman wipes away tears as she sits cross-legged on the concrete flooring. It’s right here, she says, the place her 35-year-old husband rapes her almost each night time.

Final yr, the Rohingya woman sacrificed herself to save lots of her household, embarking on a terrifying journey from her homeland of Myanmar to a rustic she had by no means seen, to marry a person she had by no means met.

It wasn’t her selection. None of this was. Not the choice to depart behind all the things she knew, nor the organized marriage for which she was not prepared.

However her household, she says, was impoverished, hungry and fearful of Myanmar’s army, which unleashed a sequence of sweeping assaults towards the nation’s Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017. In desperation, a neighbor discovered a person in Malaysia who would pay the 18,000 ringgit ($3,800) price for the woman’s passage and — after she married him — ship cash to her dad and mom and three little siblings for meals.

And so, {the teenager} — recognized together with all the women on this story by her first preliminary to guard her from retaliation — tearfully hugged her dad and mom goodbye. Then M climbed right into a trafficker’s automobile filled with youngsters.

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She didn’t but know the horrors that awaited her. All she knew then was that the burden of her household’s survival was on her slender shoulders.

She sits now in her bed room within the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, her thin body cloaked in teddy bear pajamas. The room is devoid of furnishings, its clean white partitions chipped and stained. Dangling from the ceiling is a knotted rope, designed to carry a hammock for any infants her husband forces her to bear.

“I need to return house, however I can’t,” she says in a small voice barely above a murmur. “I really feel trapped.”


Deteriorating situations in Myanmar and in neighboring Bangladesh’s refugee camps are driving scores of underage Rohingya women to Malaysia for organized marriages with Rohingya males who ceaselessly abuse them, The Related Press present in interviews with 12 younger Rohingya brides who’ve arrived in Malaysia since 2022. The youngest was 13.

All the women interviewed by the AP mentioned they’re held hostage by controlling husbands who not often allow them to outdoors. A number of mentioned they have been overwhelmed and raped by traffickers and different males in the course of the journey to Malaysia, and 5 mentioned they have been abused by their husbands. Half the women are pregnant or have already got infants, regardless of most saying they weren’t ready for motherhood.

When requested if that they had protested their dad and mom’ selections to marry them off, they appeared confused.

“This was my solely method out,” says 16-year-old F, nonetheless haunted by her recollections of Myanmar, the place in 2017 she watched as troopers burned her home, raped her neighbors and fatally shot her aunt. Within the years that adopted, so frequent have been the troopers’ gunshots within the night time that she was terrified by the sound of her buddies popping balloons within the day. “I wasn’t able to be married, however I didn’t have a selection.”

Now trapped with a 27-year-old husband, she yearns for a freedom she and her folks have by no means recognized.

“The Rohingya don’t have any place to be completely satisfied,” she says.

These undesirable marriages are the newest atrocity bestowed upon Rohingya women: from childhoods marred by violence to assaults the place safety forces systematically raped them to years of starvation in Bangladesh’s squalid refugee camps.

World apathy towards the Rohingya disaster and strict migration insurance policies have left these women with nearly no choices. The army that attacked the Rohingya overthrew Myanmar’s authorities in 2021, making any return house a life-threatening proposition. Bangladesh has refused to grant citizenship and even primary working rights to the million stateless Rohingya losing away in its camps. And no nation is providing any large-scale resettlement alternatives.

And so the Rohingya are more and more fleeing — and those that are fleeing are more and more feminine. In the course of the 2015 Andaman Sea boat disaster, by which hundreds of Rohingya refugees have been stranded at sea, the overwhelming majority of passengers have been males. This yr, greater than 60% of the Rohingya who’ve survived the Andaman crossing have been girls and kids, in accordance with the United Nations’ refugee company.

In Bangladesh, Save the Youngsters says baby marriage is among the company’s most reported worries amongst camp residents.

“We’re seeing an increase in {cases} of kid trafficking,” says Shaheen Chughtai, Save the Youngsters’s Regional Advocacy and Campaigns Director for Asia. “Ladies are extra weak to this, and infrequently that is linked to being married off in several territories.”

As a result of these women stay on the fringes of the perimeter, correct statistics on what number of stay in Malaysia don’t exist. However native advocates who work with the women say they’ve seen a spike in arrivals over the previous two years.

“There are actually numerous Rohingyas coming in to get married,” says Nasha Nik, govt director of the Rohingya Ladies Growth Community, which has labored with a whole bunch of kid brides because it was based in 2016.

Contained in the group’s small workplace in Kuala Lumpur, there are toys for the women’ infants, stacks of instructional kits about gender-based violence and a row of stitching machines the place girls and women be taught to make jewellery and different crafts they promote to assist assist themselves.

“There aren’t any different protected areas for Rohingya girls in Malaysia,” Nasha says. “Home violence may be very excessive.”

Malaysia isn’t a signatory to the United Nations’ refugee conference, so the women — most of whom are undocumented — are thought-about unlawful immigrants. Reporting their assaults to authorities, subsequently, would put them vulnerable to being thrown into one in all Malaysia’s detention facilities, which have lengthy been tormented by experiences of abuse.

Malaysia’s authorities didn’t reply to the AP’s requests for remark.

To know why a dad or mum would ship their baby into this hell, you’ll want to perceive the hell from which they got here.

Exterior her bamboo and tarp shelter in one in all Bangladesh’s camps, Hasina Begum’s sobs swallow her phrases as she speaks of her daughter.

Begum final noticed 16-year-old Parvin Akter in 2022, when she despatched her and Parvin’s brother, Azizul Hoque, on a ship sure for Indonesia. Begum hoped Parvin would make it to Malaysia to marry a person who might assist her. However an AP investigation concluded the boat sank with all 180 on board.

Begum’s husband deserted the household years in the past, leaving her to care for his or her six youngsters. The meals rations weren’t sufficient to maintain them, and Begum couldn’t afford the standard dowry that Rohingya brides’ dad and mom are anticipated to pay grooms within the camps, sometimes hundreds of {dollars}. The grooms in Malaysia forfeit dowries and infrequently ship cash to the brides’ dad and mom.

Native gangs, in the meantime, terrorized Begum’s household, as soon as kidnapping Azizul and holding him till Begum borrowed 50,000 taka ($450) for the ransom.

Which is why Begum says she despatched her daughter and son to Malaysia — so that they, and the remainder of her household, might survive. Even now, one other boat carrying Rohingya refugees has been lacking at sea for weeks, doubtless with different women who might by no means make it.

Begum sits now amid the distress and the muck of the camps because the stench from a close-by latrine wafts by, wishing she might hear her youngsters name her “mom” yet another time. She pulls up a photograph of them on her telephone, then presses it to her coronary heart.

“To be Rohingya,” she says, “is to endure.”


For 14-year-old M, like so many Rohingya women, the struggling began early. At age 9, she started working as a housekeeper for a neighborhood household in Myanmar. The patriarch typically beat her, however she by no means instructed her dad and mom. She knew her $1 a day wage helped feed her household.

She has a number of fond recollections of Myanmar: the play store she arrange together with her finest good friend. The cows her household as soon as owned. However after assaults towards the Rohingya in 2017, troopers stole their animals. Her household descended additional into poverty, unable to afford the dowry to marry M off in Myanmar.

She climbed into the trafficker’s automobile simply in the future after her dad and mom instructed her she’d been promised to a person in Malaysia. She didn’t know his identify, hadn’t seen his image.

Within the automobile have been a number of different women headed to Malaysia for marriage. M was frightened. She’d heard tales of traffickers raping women alongside the route.

For per week, they drove and walked by the jungles of Myanmar and south into Thailand. After crossing into Malaysia, they stopped at a home. 4 of the trafficker’s buddies arrived and every chosen a lady, telling them that they’d drive them to their fiancé’s properties.

As an alternative, M says, the person who selected her — who appeared to be round 50 — drove her to a different home. After they obtained inside, he pushed her. She started to cry and scream.

“If you happen to preserve shouting, I’ll kill you,” he warned. After which he raped her.

She tried to battle him off, however he beat her. She wished to die.

Within the morning, he locked her within the bed room and left her there all day with no water or meals, although she couldn’t have eaten anyway. The following night time, he returned and raped her once more. Afterwards, she vomited.

She was terrified he would kill her.

M’s expertise isn’t an anomaly. One woman spoke of a ship captain who viciously beat her again with a stick. One other spoke of a trafficker who beat her, threw her to the bottom and threatened to kill her until she persuaded her dad and mom to ship him extra money. She later wept as she helplessly watched the trafficker rape a gaggle of ladies who couldn’t pay extra. The youngest, she says, was 12.

Sixteen-year-old T was frightened from the second she noticed the boat on the seaside in Bangladesh. Although she and her household have been ravenous within the camps, she couldn’t bear to depart them for a person she didn’t know.

“Even in case you don’t have meals,” she says, “when you’ve got your dad and mom, you’re completely satisfied.”

The boat took her east into Myanmar, the nation she’d fled 5 years earlier after troopers burned her home and shot {dead} her finest good friend. From there, a trafficker hustled her and round 50 others onto one other vessel headed south. The passengers have been packed in so tight she might scarcely transfer, sitting stiffly for days together with her arms hugging her knees.

A month-long journey on foot and by automobile by Thailand adopted. The roads have been crawling with authorities, so for 12 days, she and a gaggle of ladies have been caught in a home. With them, she says, was a trafficker who confirmed them no mercy.

Every night time, she says, the trafficker ordered a unique woman to have intercourse with him. When T’s flip got here, she tried to run, however he caught her. She started to cry. “This isn’t your father’s home — cease being dramatic,” he barked. Then he beat her again with a belt.

It was Ramadan, and when the time got here to interrupt the standard quick, T was famished. However the trafficker instructed her she would obtain no meals until she had intercourse with him.

She can not communicate of what occurred subsequent.

Now inside a shadowy condominium in Malaysia, she shakes her head and stares on the flooring.

“I used to be so frightened of him,” she says quietly.


Marriage didn’t finish the women’ anguish. What it did finish have been their childhoods.

After enduring the second rape by her trafficker’s good friend, M was handed over to a different man who drove her to her 35-year-old fiancé’s condominium.

The sight of her future husband terrified her. She didn’t dare inform him she’d been raped, as a result of then he would reject her.

Her fiancé insisted they get married that day and known as an imam to the condominium. In agony and bleeding from the rapes, M couldn’t bear the considered marriage ceremony night time intercourse.

All she wished was to go house. As an alternative, she submitted to the marriage ceremony, then instructed her husband she had her interval, so he wouldn’t contact her.

A Rohingya girls’s advocate, who confirmed M’s account to the AP, heard concerning the state of affairs and intervened, telling the woman’s husband that his exhausted bride wanted time to recuperate from her journey. The advocate then introduced M to the hospital for remedy and cared for her till she was bodily healed.

When M returned to her husband, she realized he was already married with two youngsters. She had no energy to object to the state of affairs, or to the beatings, merciless taunts and rapes she often endures. She mentioned nothing concerning the abuse to her dad and mom, lest they blame themselves, and lest her husband cease sending them 300 ringgit ($64) a month.

In her spartan bed room, the place her pink cellphone with its coronary heart decals and delicate ribbon is the lone glimmer of girlish pleasure, she wonders out loud why this man hurts her.

She will be able to summon no solutions.

Throughout town, 13-year-old D performs with a blue plastic whale, rhythmically opening and shutting its jaws as she talks concerning the ache of her marriage ceremony night time and all of the nights since.

“You’ll be able to see my physique appears older, however my coronary heart and thoughts are nonetheless younger,” she says.

But her physique doesn’t look older. She is tiny, with the gentle cheeks of a kid. Her ankle is scarred from the jungle flooring that slashed her pores and skin open as she and a trafficker walked by Myanmar barefoot, to keep away from making noise.

Again in Bangladesh’s camps, she says, she beloved to play soar rope together with her buddies. Right here in Malaysia, she isn’t allowed to play with anybody. She goals of going to the market to see the colourful stalls. However her 25-year-old husband received’t let her outdoors.

She disliked him from the second they met, on their marriage ceremony day. When the imam arrived, she started to cry and refused to consent to the wedding. Certainly one of her cousins beat her till she mentioned sure.

That night time, her husband raped her. The ache was excruciating. Afterwards, she fled to the close by condominium of an older Rohingya lady she had befriended.

Her husband later compelled her to return house. And now he often forces her to have intercourse.

She spends her days sleeping and sitting and scrolling by TikTok. Generally the loneliness overwhelms her to the purpose of tears. When her dad and mom name and ask if she is completely satisfied, she tells them she isn’t. However she doesn’t inform them the extent of her despair. Their lives are exhausting sufficient, she says.

She prays she received’t get pregnant, however her husband desires youngsters. She is aware of it’s solely a matter of time.

Her voice grows determined.

“I need to run.”


In an condominium advanced crammed with locked metallic gates and caged-in balconies, the infants’ cries echo by the cavernous hallways. They’re the youngsters of kid brides, who arrived whereas lots of the brides nonetheless felt like infants themselves.

But motherhood was one other selection made for them, and one other shackle they can’t escape.

Sixteen-year-old R cradles her wailing new child in her skinny arms, his tiny palms reaching for her. She appears again at her child, who was born in a rush of ache 24 days earlier, however her eyes are vacant, her bony shoulders slumped.

She and her 27-year-old husband started attempting for a child one month after they wed. She wasn’t prepared, however it didn’t matter.

Although her life in Bangladesh was bleak, as one in all 11 youngsters, she by no means felt alone. In Malaysia, when her husband leaves for work, she has nobody.

And so when her child arrived, she felt a touch of pleasure.

“After I noticed my child’s face, I used to be completely satisfied, as a result of now I’ve a good friend,” she says softly.

However she can not sleep, as a result of he at all times desires to breastfeed. He cries on a regular basis. She does, too.

Sixteen-year-old T survived 12 days within the Thai home the place the trafficker had raped a unique woman every night time. She then ready herself to outlive marriage and all that might comply with. But 5 months after her son was born, motherhood nonetheless feels alien.

“Even when we aren’t prepared for infants, we now have to be,” she says. “I don’t really feel like a mom.”

She doesn’t know breastfeed and her 25-year-old husband refuses to permit anybody to assist her. He has by no means held their baby.

Her husband verbally abuses her and received’t even let her go to the playground outdoors their condominium. She is banned from talking to guests. She prays that any daughter she has will go to highschool relatively than marry younger.

Her nervousness manifests as a girlish giggle. However when she speaks of the ache for her personal mom, her grin fades and her eyes effectively with tears.

“I miss my mother,” she says. “I would like my dad and mom.”


Again inside M’s bed room, the 14-year-old thinks again to the goals she as soon as had whereas rising up in Myanmar: to go to highschool, to get a job, possibly at the same time as a instructor or a physician.

She nonetheless longs for these issues, however is aware of they’re unattainable. So she has stopped considering of her future. For now, she simply tries to outlive her current.

One other woman, 16-year-old S, enters the bed room. Her swollen stomach strains towards her pink T-shirt, which is adorned with hearts and butterflies.

S is 7 months’ pregnant and homeless. Her 25-year-old husband divorced her and left her for an additional teenage woman the day he realized S was pregnant. Although her husband was abusive, she pleaded with him to remain. She hasn’t heard from him since.

She spends her days begging on the streets for meals and a spot to sleep. Right now, she has been permitted to remain at M’s condominium for a few nights. It’s a brief reprieve.

She nonetheless wears her marriage ceremony ring and plans to promote it simply earlier than the beginning to assist pay the hospital supply price. However the ring is price a pair hundred {dollars} at finest, and the hospital will cost greater than $1,000.

For Rohingya women, she says, the agony by no means ends.

“From the second we’re born, every single day we face issue after issue,” she says.

She hopes her baby will go to highschool. She hopes her baby shall be type. However she has stopped hoping for the rest.

“I as soon as dreamed of getting a contented household, however my husband divorced me,” she says. “I don’t dream a lot anymore.”

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