Raheema was just 15 years old when she left her home in the Rakhine state in Burma.
“There was no food at home and my mother thought I would be better off if I joined my father,” who was in a refugee camp in Balgadesh, Raheema told the Thomas Reuters Foundation, according to the DailyMail UK.
“But my aunt at the camp sold me to the agent who told her he would get me married in India,” she continued.
When she arrived in Kolkata, however, she was sold into slavery for around $300.
“He was only slightly younger than my father… he would beat me up with electrical wires and not let me leave, saying he had bought me,” Raheema said.
After five years in his captivity, she was allowed to leave. At the time, she had one child and was five months pregnant with another baby.
Raheema’s story is not unique. Over half a million Rohingya Muslim refugees have fled Burma — also known as Myanmar — amid continued state-supported violence in the majority-Buddhist country.
But, migration officials are finding that these refugees are also becoming the prey of human traffickers.
“Marriage is big for young girls and parents are agreeing to it because they see better economic stability,” said Iffat Nawaz, a spokeswoman for the aid organization BRAC, according to the DailyMail UK.
BRAC is working to prevent abuse cases, such as Raheema’s. They have set up educational courses at the refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh to inform young girls on how to stay safe, and are trained on what to look for among the crowd of strangers.
The anti-trafficking organization Impulse NGO Network works to reunite trafficked girls with their families in Burma. In the past six months, the network has received five cases of girls who were trafficked from Bangladesh into India, according to reports from their families.
According to the BBC, there were around one million Rohingya Muslims in Burma at the start of 2017. They are one of many ethnic minorities in the country and have their own language. The government in Burma is primarily Buddhist, and denies the Rohingya citizenship, going so far as to exclude them from the census.
The military claims the violence is a response to attacks by a small group of Rohingya against border agents in the Rakhine province, which left 12 officers dead. However, the violence — which includes arson, sexual violence, and internal displacement — long precedes those attacks, and other demonstrations within Rohingya communities, said Olivia Enos, a policy analyst in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, who specializes in human rights.
“Maybe some individual Rohingya are acting out in self-defense, but to place blame on Rohingya is misleading,” Enos said.
“The military has a long, long history of burning homes and villages, raping women and children. The track record is so long that to place the blame on any kind of radical agents within the Rohingya would be really inaccurate.”
The crisis has pushed more than 660,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh since last summer. Some Rohingya have migrated to India, where there are close to 40,000 currently.
The UN has called the situation the “world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.”