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Rohingya’s Refugee Children


By Natalie Varnham

 no human is illegal

In mid-May, Malaysia, along with the rest of the world, looked on in despair at the thousands of Rohingya refugees stranded out at sea on our boarders. Amongst the photos of overcrowded boats peered the faces of children, in need of a safe home.

Eventually the plea for entry into Malaysia was answered and the country offered to provide, at least, a temporary settlement for Rohingya’s ‘boat people’. They then join the many other refugees that have fled persecution to arrive in Malaysia with the hopes of a better life for themselves and their children. Currently the UNHRC claims that Malaysia homes around 8,000 registered child refugees, and this figure is thought to only be 1/3 of the actual amount present here1. Unfortunately for refugees, Malaysia is not one of the countries that signed the UN’s Refugee Convention placing an immediate obstacle for them to have access to their basic rights, but Malaysia did sign the UN’s Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), this means that despite a child’s place of birth as a country it recognises that every child has a set of rights he/she is entitled to, which therefore should place protection on any refugees here under the age of 18.

Sadly, the recognition that refugee children are entitled to rights commonly isn’t acknowledged and they are left unable to claim what every child rightfully deserves. The access to healthcare falls under the right of survival, something paramount to every child, but healthcare centers are often not an option for fear that entry may result in arrest or detention. Another restriction of healthcare lies in the costing as not all children can afford treatment, so it becomes unobtainable for them. Children have don’t have fully developed immune systems, without the most basic right of healthcare, illnesses may get worse and result in critical cases.

Healthcare is not the only right than every child is entitled too. Despite NGO’s working their hardest to provide education to as many refugees as possible, in reality they often to not get the funding or support needed to create adequate schooling, they cannot provide the exams that are needed for a child to further their education, placing limitations on what they are able to achieve. It is thought there are currently 44,000 children in Malaysia that do not attend school, and of this number unsurprisingly most are refugee children2. No access to education forces children into helpless situations, it removes their access to knowledge, which it turn strips them of their power and capability to improve their situation. Without the skills that education provides children can be left unable to understand and undertake in basic mathematics and literacy, this leaves them to struggle to fill in forms, work out money and find decent employment; these are life skills that are principle in being able to progress.

Children are entitled to protection due to them being more vulnerable and sensitive in unsafe situations, but for refugee children, protection is not always available. Refugee children can find themselves arrested and placed into detention centers of appalling conditions with a lack of food and water plus physical abuse, appallingly these centers have been to know hold children for up to 6 months and result in a psychological impact to the child afterwards2. There is no excuse for children to be treated in this manner.

Every child has an equal right to access their basic needs, it’s the foundation of the UNCRC and a fact that many organisations around the world are working on implementing in every circumstance. Provision, participation and protection are not luxuries, these are the rights that every child needs for a healthy development, and denial of these may cause long-term implications that will only escalate over time. The voices of refugee children here in Malaysia are often not heard, so we must ensure we voice our stance alongside them to raise awareness and implement change.



  1. The Malaysia insider (2015) ‘Giving Rohingya children a taste of school life’ Avalible at (accesed August 2015)
  1. Unicef (2015) ‘Malaysia’s report of children’s rights’ Available at (accessed August 2015)


Natalie has been helping out at Voice of the Children for the past month. She is from the UK but now lives here in sunny Malaysia. She is currently studying Childhood & Youth Studies at a university. Natalie is interested in child development and issues surrounding childhood, and mainly how to enhance the life of each child! She is a firm believer of the idea that every child deserves an equal chance in life, and equal rights.


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