Malaysia has become a destination for sex trafficking of Rohingya girls, with traffickers luring teens at Bangladesh refugee camps with false promises of a better life in the Southeast Asian nation, a Kuala Lumpur-based NGO said in a report Friday.
The Child Rights Coalition Malaysia (CRCM) released its 101-page report after the U.S. State Department alleged in June that Bangladeshi criminal groups were taking Rohingya women from refugee camps at night, exploiting them in sex trafficking and then returning them during the day.
“In Malaysia, children, mostly from South and Southeast Asia, are mainly trafficked into domestic servitude and sex work,” CRCM said in its report.
"Malaysia has also been a destination for sex trafficking. Traffickers go around refugee camps in Bangladesh promising Rohingya girls a better life in Malaysia by oﬀering them work opportunities. However, these girls are often forced into sex trafficking," it said, referring to female refugees below the age of 18.
On Friday, a senior Bangladeshi official and a Rohingya leader confirmed to BenarNews that trafficking of Rohingya women and children from refugee camps was happening.
“A syndicate of human traffickers lures the Rohingya [with the promise of] of a better life and jobs, and smuggles them to Malaysia,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said. “In some cases, they make false Bangladeshi passports to go to Malaysia.”
But since Bangladesh does not issue passports to the refugees, who are considered stateless, human traffickers smuggle them out by sea, Khan said.
The traffickers have networks at the refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh and in Myanmar’s Rakhine state – which lies just across the border – “to traffic Rohingya girls and women,” the minister told BenarNews.
“But recently, the trend has come down due to strong surveillance of the law enforcement agencies,” he said. “We have caught many traffickers and filed cases against them.”
Traffickers nonetheless remain “active” at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, said Mohammad Noor, a Rohingya refugee leader there.
“Many women and girls step into the trap of the traffickers, as we have no future. So, they dare to go to Malaysia by whatever means,” he told BenarNews.
He said “some people” in the refugee camps were believed to be involved in kidnapping and stealing babies, who were being sent by human traffickers to Malaysia.
Three days ago, Noor said, a 2-year-old girl named Nur Begum was reported missing.
“We have come to know that one woman fed her something with food, and the child became unconscious,” Noor said. “Then the woman fled the camp with the baby.”
More than one million Rohingya are living in Bangladesh refugee camps, including around 740,000 who fled their homes as Myanmar’s security forces launched a counter-offensive in Rakhine state after insurgents attacked police and army posts in 2017.
Human rights groups had documented cases of rape, killing and burning of Rohingya homes and villages in Rakhine, while the United Nations had alleged that Myanmar’s military of carried out the crackdown with “genocidal intent.” Naypyidaw’s officials have denied the allegations.
NGO slams Malaysia’s ‘limited awareness’ of child rights
The CRCM released its report the same day that Hannah Yeoh, Malaysia’s deputy minister for Women, Family and Community Development, said Kuala Lumpur was in the final stages of preparing its own report on the status of children’s rights in the country.
Yeoh said the government’s report, which would be submitted to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child next year, would be handed over to the attorney-general’s office for review before being presented for cabinet approval.
“We have not submitted this report since the first in 2006. So, Deputy Prime Minister [Wan Azizah Wan Ismail] has already given instructions for us to prepare this report and submit it next year,” state-run news agency Bernama quoted Yeoh as telling reporters in the Malaysian capital.
CRCM said in its report that as of the end of 2018, more than 163,800 refugees and asylum seekers have registered with the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR in Malaysia. Among them were 42,481 children younger than 18, it said.
The NGO’s report slammed Malaysia’s “limited awareness” of child rights and poor enforcement of child protection laws, alleging that the “lack of a policy for the protection of refugees in Malaysia put many refugee and asylum-seeking children in vulnerable positions, such as being arrested and detained.”
Despite an overwhelming number of refugees residing in Malaysia, the country is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and has not established a domestic or administrative framework that outlines the rights of the refugees, the report said.
In June, the U.S. State Department’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report said Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so,” explaining why it kept Dhaka on Tier 2 Watch List, just one step above the lowest ranking.
The TIP report also placed Malaysia under the Tier 2 Watch List, saying it “did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous year” in the fight against trafficking.
Despite the State Department’s allegations, “very little is seen to be done as there has been little acknowledgement by the [Malaysian] government on trafficking of children for labor or sex,” the CRCM report said.