One in two Rohingya children who fled to Bangladesh without their parents were orphaned by brutal violence, new research by Save the Children suggests ahead of the one-year anniversary of the crisis on Saturday.

There are currently more than 6,000 unaccompanied and separated Rohingya children living in Cox’s Bazar, where they face crippling food shortages and are at increased risk of exploitation and abuse.

Child Protection workers in the area’s camps had previously thought an overwhelming majority of these children had simply lost contact with parents or carers in the chaos of their journey to Bangladesh—but the research suggests otherwise.

The agency’s study, involving 139 unaccompanied and separated Rohingya children, is the largest of its type in Cox’s Bazar since the brutal military crackdown in Myanmar a year ago.

Preliminary findings from the research show:

  • 70% of children covered by the study were separated from parents or main carers by violent attacks; 63% of all children in the study were separated during a direct assault on their village, and 9% as their family attempted to flee to Bangladesh.
  • Half (50%) said their parents or main carers had been killed in the attacks, leaving them orphaned, with many describing eyewitness scenes of brutal violence.

Save the Children is calling for the perpetrators of these systematic, ruthless and deliberate attacks in Myanmar to be held accountable under international law for their crimes, and for all countries to support initiatives at the UN to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“Twelve months ago, our teams saw children arriving in Bangladesh on their own, so distressed, hungry and exhausted they couldn’t speak. We set up spaces for these children to receive 24-hour support while we searched for their families. One year later, it’s clear that for many, this reunification will never take place,” said Bill Chambers, CEO of Save the Children.  

“These children are some of the most vulnerable on the planet, and they have had to carve out an entirely new existence in the camps, without their mother or father, in an environment where they are far more vulnerable to risks like trafficking, early marriage and other forms of exploitation.

“To ensure vital support is provided to these children, donors need to fully fund the $950 million Joint Response Plan for 2018, currently just a third funded. We also need to ensure that Rohingya refugee children have access to safe, quality and inclusive learning opportunities while they are displaced, as well as targeted mental health support for the most distressed,” said Chambers.

Save the Children has reached more than 350,000 Rohingya children in Cox’s Bazar in the past 12 months, including a large majority of those who have been orphaned or separated from their parents.

The aid agency has done this by setting up nearly 100 child and girl friendly spaces in the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, which provide nearly 40,000 children with a safe space to play, recover and be children again, as well as through programmes providing protection, access to education, health and nutrition, food and water and sanitation services.

“It’s been a year since these children had their childhoods ripped away. The world has failed to hold the perpetrators of these barbaric attacks, including the Myanmar military, to account,” said Save the Children’s Myanmar Country Director, Michael McGrath.

“Extraordinary crimes demand an extraordinary response. A credible, impartial, and independent investigation into these crimes and all violations of children’s rights committed in northern Rakhine State is a key first step towards ensuring accountability,” said McGrath.


  • Save the Children’s research involved interviews with 61 unaccompanied and separated children (UASC); the study reflects the experience of 139 UASC when siblings are included. While the figures presented here are not statistically representative, these children were randomly selected from Save the Children’s caseload of UASC. It is therefore likely that the experiences of these children mirror that of other unaccompanied and separated children in the camp. In general, it is very challenging to do statistically representative research with such a vulnerable group of children in an environment like refugee camps, on such a distressing topic, and with such a large population of children.

The preliminary results of the research found that:

  • Of the 139 children, 99 were separated from their primary care giver as a result of an attack in Myanmar; of these, the vast majority said these attacks had taken place in their village (87), and the remainder said they had taken place in transit to Bangladesh (12).
  • Of the 99 children that have been separated from their primary care giver as a result of an attack, 70 children said their parents or care givers had been killed with 59 of these saying the killing had happened in attacks on their villages and the remaining 11 during attacks while they were in transit.
  • The full assessment results will be released in the coming weeks.
  • There are at least 6,013 unaccompanied or separated Rohingya children in Bangladesh, according to the Inter Sector Coordination Group’s August 2 sitrep.
  • Since 25 August 2017, over 700,000 Rohingya have arrived in Cox’s Bazar, including at least 370,000 children, following a brutal military crackdown after Myanmar police border posts were attacked. Over a two-month period at the end of last year, the refugee population in Cox’s Bazar more than quadrupled.

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