No one knows how many Rohingya became pregnant as a result of rape by the Myanmar military. No one knows how many babies were born to survivors of sexual violence living among the 750,000 Rohingya in camps in Bangladesh.
The systematic sexual violence against the Rohingya reminded many in Bangladesh of their own painful history: During Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971, the Pakistani military and local collaborators killed about 300,000 civilians and raped and tortured as many as 400,000 women and girls.
After the fighting ended in late 1971, reports abounded of rape survivors who, shunned by their own communities, had killed themselves or their newborn babies, or died from attempts to self-induce an abortion. To combat the notion that rape is a stain on family honor, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s first president, held the women up as “birangona,” or “heroines of the war,” and urged the nation to welcome them back.
Confronted with the aftermath of mass assault in a society still reeling from war, Bangladesh was compelled to intervene. In doing so, it planted the seeds for a safe abortion services program that continues today in the camps for Rohingya refugees and has lessons for the world.
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In 1972, Mr. Rahman’s government temporarily waived its ban on abortion for victims of wartime rape and brought in teams of foreign doctors with the International Planned Parenthood Federation to terminate unwanted pregnancies.
Dr. Malcolm Potts of International Planned Parenthood, one of the world’s foremost experts on abortion, led the mission. For weeks, Dr. Potts and colleagues traversed the country treating patients in district hospitals. “We had a tiny numerical impact,” Dr. Potts recalled. “But it was highly visible, and I think it had a lasting impact.”
Apr 27, 2019Top UN officials call for generosity from world to help Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh camps. Top United Nations officials have urged the international community not to forget the plight of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and called for global support to ensure their safe and voluntary return to Myanmar. Speaking to reporters following a visit to refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar on Friday, Mark […]
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