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Alarming number of Rohingya refugee children orphaned by brutal violence, new Save the Children study finds

Charity calls on UK Government to refer Myanmar’s military to the International Criminal Court.

COX’S BAZAR, 22 AUGUST 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 charity’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:

  • Seventy percent of children covered by the study were separated from parents or main carers by violent attacks; 63% of all children interviewed 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 says the UK is uniquely positioned to play a key role in bringing the perpetrators of these crimes to account.

Save the Children’s Director of Humanitarian Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns, George Graham said:

“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.

“The UK has been clear in its condemnation of these terrible atrocities – and the Department for International Development (DFID) has played a leading role in helping to provide life-saving food, water and shelter for the 700,000 people who have fled to Bangladesh – but unfortunately this alone won’t bring justice for Rohingya children.

“As a member of the UN Security Council, the UK can influence the international stance on Myanmar. The Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has an opportunity to show leadership by pushing to refer the perpetrators of these systematic, ruthless and deliberate attacks to the International Criminal Court.

“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.”

Save the Children’s Country Director in Bangladesh, Mark Pierce, said:

“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.

“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.

“While our data can’t claim to be representative of all orphaned and separated refugee children in Cox’s Bazar, it paints a frightening picture of a bloody conflict where civilians were targeted and killed in large numbers.

“To ensure aid agencies can continue providing vital support 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 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.”

Thanks in part to UK Aid – and the leadership shown by DFID in response to this crisis – 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. 

Among those it supports is 17-year-old Humaira*, who fled to Bangladesh with neighbours from her village after her parents were killed in front of her during the August 2017 attacks.

Her case worker, Rashna Sharmin Keya, said it took her a month, and sessions with a counsellor, before she was able to share her story.

But after months of searching, she was finally reunited with her two younger brothers. They now live together, with the responsibility of leading the household resting on Humaira*’s shoulders.

“When I first met her, she didn’t talk so much. There was fear in her heart and she didn’t trust anyone,” Keya said. “She was crying and told me: ‘Everyone died. My whole family was killed in Myanmar. I saw them, I know everyone died. No one is there’.”

Save the Children’s Country Director in Myanmar, Michael McGrath, continued:

“The international community must step up and find a long-lasting solution to the crisis that allows for the safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees, which respects the basic rights of children and their families and is underpinned by international law.”



  • 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—k 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.
  • As the penholder for Myanmar at the United Nations Security Council, the body which can refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court, the UK Government can draft a resolution that includes text which refers the situation in northern Rakhine State to the International Criminal Court.
  • To date as the penholder, the UK have secured several meetings on the situation in Rakhine State, Myanmar, a UNSC delegation visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, and statements by the UNSC. However, they have stopped short of drafting a resolution or at a minimum building consensus amongst the Security Council for future ICC referral.
  • During the month of August the UK holds the presidency of the Security Council, meaning they can set the agenda for this month.
  • Save the Children is campaigning for justice for Rohingya children. More than 22,000 people have signed the petition at: action.savethechildren.org.uk/rohingya
  • The UK is one of the biggest donors to the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh. Since this latest crisis began on 25 August 2017 the UK has provided £129 million to support those living in the camps.

For more information or to arrange interviews in the UK or Bangladesh, please contact:


+44 7831 650 409