“I do not remember how to play anymore”: the BBC’s investigation into sex trafficking that Rohingya girls and teenagers are victims of

“I do not remember how to play anymore”: the BBC’s investigation into sex trafficking that Rohingya girls and teenagers are victims of

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They try to escape in search of a new life but in many cases they end up subjected by mafias of prostitution.

Teenage girls of the Rohingya ethnic group, who are in refugee camps in Bangladesh, are falling into the hands of traffickers of people who force them into prostitution, according to a BBC investigation.

Through these illegal networks, foreigners seeking sexual contacts can easily access these children who fled the conflict in Myanmar and now face a new threat.

Such was the case of Anwara, 14 years old. He tried to escape from Myanmar by seeking help on the road to Bangladesh after his relatives were killed.

“Some women came in a van, they asked me if I would go with them,” he says.

After accepting the help, she was mounted in a car with the promise of getting a safe route to a new life. Instead, she was taken to the nearest city, Cox’s Bazar.

“Shortly after they brought me two boys, they showed me a knife and they hit me in the stomach and they beat me because I was not cooperating, then they raped me, I did not want to have sex, but they did it anyway” he says.

Stories like Anwara’s about human trafficking are very frequent in areas near the refugee camps.

The main victims are women and children who are tempted to leave these centers and subjected to a life of forced labor or sexual servitude.

A BBC team together with the Sentinel Foundation, a non-governmental organization created to train and support police officers to combat child exploitation, traveled to Bangladesh to investigate the networks behind this trafficking in persons.

Children and parents commented that they were offered jobs abroad and in Dhaka, the capital of the country, as domestic servants, in hotels and kitchen workers.

More than 700,000 Rohingyas have fled a wave of violence against them in Myanmar since last year and have ended up sheltered in many cases from shelters for refugees.

The chaos of the fields offers great opportunities to convert children of sex workers. Offering the opportunity for a better life to desperate families is a cruel tactic used by traffickers to achieve their goals.

“I do not remember how to play anymore”

Masuda, a 14-year-old girl who now works helping a nongovernmental organization, narrates how she was trafficked.

Rohingyas refugee camp in Bangladesh.Image caption Nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled violence in Myanmar since August 2017.

“I knew what was going to happen to me, everyone knows that the woman who offered me work forces people to have sex, she is a Rohingya who has been here for a long time, we know her. There is nothing for me here, “he says.

“My family had disappeared, I have no money, I had raped in Myanmar, I used to play in the woods with my brother and sister, and now I do not remember how to play,” he adds.

Some parents cried out in fear of not knowing more about their children. Others smiled at the possibility of having a better life, despite not having contact with their families.

As one mother said, ” any place is better” than a life in the fields.

But who and where does he take these children?

Posing as foreigners newly arrived in Bangladesh seeking sex, an undercover BBC research team tried to gain access to the children.

Covert operation

In just 48 hours, after asking the owners of a small beach hotel-a type of business known for renting rooms for sexual encounters-they found the telephone numbers of local pimps.

With the knowledge of the police, they asked if they had young girls available for a foreigner, specifically Rohingya girls.

“We have young girls, many, but why do you want a Rohingya, they are the dirtiest,” said one man.

It was a recurring theme during the investigation. On the scale of prostitution at Cox’s Bazaar, young Rohingyas were considered the least desirable and the cheapest available.

Rohingyas refugee camp in Bangladesh.Image caption Refugee camps offer those who are looking for sex easy access to children.

There were offers of girls by different pimps who worked as part of a network. During the negotiations, the journalists stressed that they wanted to spend the night with the girls immediately.

Then they began to receive photographs of different young people who, according to the pimps, were between 13 and 17 years old. The number of girls available and the size of the exploitation network were surprising . If the undercover reporters did not like any of the girls in the photos, there were lots more.

Many of the girls lived with the families of the pimps, so when they were not with a client they often found themselves cooking or cleaning.

“We do not hold the girls for long, most of the people looking for them are Bangladeshi men, but they get bored afterwards, the younger girls cause a lot of trouble, so we get rid of them,” they told reporters.

After the recordings and the surveillance, the investigation team presented the evidence to the local police who assigned a small team to mount a covert operation.

The authorities immediately recognized the pimp. “I know him, we know him very well,” said one of the agents. Maybe it was an informant or a known criminal, it was not clear exactly what he meant.

As part of the preparation for the operation, they called the pimp and asked him to take two of the girls they had seen in the photographs to a well-known hotel in Cox’s Bazar at 8 o’clock at night.

Beach near Cox's Bazar.
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGESImage caption Cox’s Bazar is a tourist resort in Bangladesh.

Posing as a foreign client, a member of the Sentinel Foundation waited outside the hotel with a translator, while hidden in a car parked there the police officers awaited the arrival of the trafficker.

As they approached 8 o’clock at night the pimp made several frantic calls to tell the alleged client to leave the hotel , something he did not agree to. Then, he sent a driver with the two girls who had been chosen through the photographs.

After paying, the supposed client asked: “If tonight is good, can we get more?” The driver nodded.

After payment, the police acted, arrested the driver. Specialists in the care of minors and trafficked persons took care of the girls.

One of them refused to go to a shelter, while the other, who said she was 15 years old, went to a social protection institution.

The girls seemed to be torn between poverty and prostitution . They said that without sex work they would not be able to feed themselves or their families.

Dark web

Relocating women and girls both nationally and internationally requires a degree of organization. The Internet provides the tools that allow members of organized crime groups to both communicate and trade in prostitution.

A person with a hood, against a background of computer codes.

Copyright of the THINKSTOCK imageImage caption The dark internet operates below the radar of the authorities.

The research team found examples of younger Rohingyas who had been taken to Chittagong and Dhaka in Bangladesh, Kathmandu in Nepal and Calcutta in India.

In the burgeoning sex industry in Calcutta, the girls receive Indian identification documents and are absorbed into the system. Their true identities disappear .

In the cyber crime unit in Dhaka, the police explained how the traffickers negotiated the girls online. Open and closed groups of Facebook serve as a platform for functioning in the shadow of the sex industry with minors.

In the middle of a labyrinth of encrypted web pages, they showed us a platform used by pedophiles to share information through the so-called dark network. Their goal is to share experiences about how to have sex with children around the world.

A prolific user offered a step-by-step guide on how to take advantage of children, specifically Rohingyas, during a refugee crisis .

Prostitute in Bangladesh.
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES imageImage caption The Bangladeshi sex industry existed before the Rohingya refugee crisis, but its presence has increased it.

It explained about the best ways to avoid being discovered, updated information about the local police and the best areas to get minors.

“At the moment I’m on vacation, I appreciate any idea or local suggestion,” wrote another user.

That dialogue was already removed from the Internet by the authorities but offered a chilling demonstration of how refugee crises offer opportunities for pedophiles and traffickers to take advantage of the most vulnerable people.

Both inside and outside the internet, the network of traffickers, pimps and transporters continue to trade with women and children subjected to sexual exploitation in Bangladesh.

The Rohingya crisis did not create the sex industry in that country, but the number of women and children available has increased, reducing the price paid for prostitution and keeping demand stronger than ever.

The names in this text were changed to protect the identities of those involved .

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