Conditions for pregnant women, survivors of sexual violence, remain dire at the camps
More than 16,000 Rohingya babies were born in the camps and informal settlements in Cox's Bazar in the nine months since a brutal Myanmar army crackdown forced thousands of families to take refuge in Bangladesh.
"Around 60 babies are born a day and are taking their first breath in appalling conditions, away from home, to mothers who have survived displacement, violence, trauma, and at times, rape," said Unicef Representative in Bangladesh, Edouard Beigbeder.
"This is far from the best start in life,” he added.
More than 700,000 Rohingyas fled their homes in Rakhine State since late August last year, following a sweeping Myanmar response to attacks by militants on border outposts and an army base.
Refugees who managed to flee across the border brought with them appalling tales of violence perpetrated by the Myanmar forces and their local collaborators.
Myanmar denies allegations of rape, torture, arson and killings, saying it is fighting militants and not targeting civilians.
Médecins Sans Frontières or Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said around 6,700 Rohingyas, including at least 730 children below the age of five, were killed between August 25 and September 24 last year.
The UN has described the military offensive which triggered the exodus, as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Unicef says the conditions for pregnant women remain dire, especially for survivors of sexual violence.
More than 1.1 million Rohingyas have been registered by the government, according to official data. Many more are yet to be registered.
Women and children, who survived sexual violence, are among the most vulnerable and marginalized of the new refugees who are currently staying in the camps.
"It's impossible to know the true number of babies who have been or will be born as a result of sexual violence," Unicef’s Beigbeder added. "But it's vital that each and every new and expectant mother and every newborn receive all the help and support they need."
Of all the babies born in the camps since September, only about 3,000 were delivered in health facilities. Estimates suggest that only 18% of mothers currently give birth in health centres.
Working with partners, Unicef is providing antenatal and postnatal care to mothers and their babies.
Unicef case management workers regularly visit mothers in their shelters to assess their situation, provide support, and offer them referral services.
It has also mobilized almost 250 community volunteers to make sure that a growing number of women visit healthcare facilities before and after giving birth, according to Unicef.
Unicef for proper birth registration
Unicef is also advocating proper and legal birth registration for newborns, as Unicef is concerned that without this, the babies will have trouble accessing vital basic services they are entitled to.
The 'invisibility' of non-registered children increases their vulnerability and the risk that violations of their rights will go unnoticed, it said.
During these times of conflict and unrest, providing newborns with birth registration is a matter of urgent priority, Unicef said.
Children unregistered at birth or without identification documents are often excluded from accessing education, healthcare, and social security.
If children are separated from their families, reuniting them is also made more difficult by the lack of official documentation.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation agreement on November 23, 2017. On January 16, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a document on 'physical arrangement' which will facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland from Bangladesh.
The arrangement stipulates that the repatriation will be completed preferably within two years from the start of repatriation.
Bangladesh and Myanmar will hold the second meeting of the Joint Working Group (JWG) on Thursday.
Officials in Dhaka say Bangladesh will "give a push" for expediting the verification and repatriation process as there has been little progress in this regard.