The Rohingya -
That a full-scale operation of ethnic cleansing is underway in Myanmar is well understood. Marauding bands of Buddhists, incited by firebrand monks and armed by their patrons in the military, have been efficaciously erasing the Rohingya from Rakhine State. And as is par for the course in moments of great strife, women and children have suffered the most grievously. Of the 520,000 people who have fled to overcrowded Bangladeshi refugee camps, 290,000 are children. Some have been orphaned and many more will be separated from their families.
It is also well understood that the young are more susceptible to trauma than adults - by several orders of magnitude. With this in mind, consider the report from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that describes the intent and effect
of the pogrom, "[to] instil deep and widespread fear and trauma – physical, emotional and psychological" on the Rohingya. The stories emerging from Rakhine State are truly barbaric
and included one this week about soldiers gang-raping a young woman after throwing her baby in a fire. The scale of psychic rupture and trauma experienced by the surviving children is impossible to even imagine.
In the camps at Cox's Bazaar, there is little help for children coming across the border; aid agencies are having a difficult enough time feeding, let alone counselling the arrivals. The only respite
comes from UNICEF's makeshift schools where children are encouraged to sing, dance and draw.
Child brides -
In marginally better news, across the Western Bangladeshi border the Indian supreme court this week took the extraordinary and long-awaited step of criminalising sex with underage brides. Activists had for years petitioned to close a loophole that allowed for men to have sex with girls between the ages of 15 and 18 if they married them. Critics of the law argued that it contradicted other longstanding statutes which placed the age of consent at 18 years. The ruling comes in the same week as the story of a Rajasthani woman
who successfully had her marriage annulled after she proved that it occurred and was consummated while she was a child.
This move is the latest in a long standing push to end the practice of child marriages in India. Data shows that in 2005 47.4% of married women
between the ages of 18 and 29 had been wedded before they turned 18. The court also noted that there may be as many as 23 million child brides in India today. Experts believe the new legislation will also help curb the recent increase in child sex trafficking. An advocate from one anti-trafficking group said that 20,000 girls were trafficked for sex just last
year, many under the guise of child marriage.
The poorest nation in the Middle East, Yemen, is in the grips of the worst cholera outbreak in human history. It is both the fastest spreading and the largest. Aid workers are completely overwhelmed and most of the country's hospitals have been levelled by British and American bombs dropped from Saudi and Emirati aircraft. It is expected that there will be one million sufferers of the disease by the end of the year, of which 600,000 will be children
. But that is two and a half months away.
Right now there are 815,000 confirmed cases and children under the age of 5 make up a quarter of them. Doctors say they are also seeing cases of the disease claiming the lives of babies in-utero
. While cholera can be treated easily with oral rehydration techniques, there is no way to address the root cause. Most of the country is without sanitation. Garbage is piled up in the street, sewerage facilities have been ruined and most people, impoverished even before the war, cannot afford money to boil infected water. There is no end in sight.
This is the story of a single young woman going to school. It is, compared to the events described above, manifestly unimportant. But, sadly, tragedies described through horrifying statistics fail to capture human imagination quite like symbols do. And Malala Yousafzai is nothing if not symbolic. Five years after being shot in the head and neck by Taliban fighters in the Swat Valley of her native Pakistan, Malala attended her first class
at the prestigious Oxford University this week.
After her failed execution, Malala's family moved to Britain, where her profile has grown from strength to strength. At the helm of her eponymous charitable foundation, Malala has continued to advocate for the education of girls across the developing world; a continuation of the same effort that saw her targeted by the Taliban in the first place. Now, she has the opportunity for herself that she has sought for so many others like her.