Polygamous marriages increase in Rohingya camps: Study

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A Rohingya bride is being prepared for her marriage at camp in Cox’s Bazar. -Photo: Allison Joyce, Getty

Marriages between Rohingya women and Bangladeshi men are also increasing

Roton Malo:

A recent study by ACAPS, an independent information provider organization, shows that incidents of polygamous marriages have increased in Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar over the past 4 years which is causing an increase of exploitation, abuse, and other forms of violence inside the camp.

The study also reveals that variety of consequences due to the polygamous marriage practices are affecting the wellbeing, education, and hindering child development.

The study titled “Protection implications of Polygamous Marriages in the Rohingya Camps” was conducted based on recent reports by NGOs and UN agencies operating in Rohingya response.

The study was conducted to find the core reasons behind the increase of polygamous marriages among the Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMN). The research was conducted by secondary data review, KII and FGDs with Needs and Population Monitoring (NPM) by Rohingya and Bangladeshi enumerators.

The researchers of ACAPS identified some important factors on polygamy– economic/assistance benefit from humanitarian organizations, dowry and absence of income generating activities in the camps. Beside this, relationship dynamics between male and female, female empowerment, religious interpretation, and different prevailing gender norms are also some key factors increasing polygamy over the past 4 years.

A Rohingya bridegroom is ready to go for marrying a woman in another camp with his friends. -Photo: Ayat Ullah Shipon

Key reasons behind Polygamous Marriages among Rohingyas:

Economic Factor:
The researchers of ACAPS found some specific reasons behind the polygamous marriages among Rohingyas. The economic factor appeared one of the key reasons. The Rohingya households basically live on various assistances from humanitarian organizations that make Rohingya men less responsible for supporting their wives.

On the other hand, expectations around dowry, including high dowry payments, make polygamous marriages more feasible for poor families of Rohingya community living in Cox’s Bazar camps. The researchers found that the absence of income-generating activities and livelihood opportunities in the Rohingya camps has resulted in men having little to do to occupy their time.

Change in Gender Norms:
The researchers of ACAPS found that the inability of Rohingya men to provide for their families has affected their identity as a provider, changing relationship dynamics. Moreover, polygamy is associated with female empowerment through NGO work in the camps, the researchers said adding that polygamy is used as a threat to enforce social norms around women’s sexuality and behavior.

Rohingya Men’s Perception on Population Figure:
The study reveals that some people of the Rohingya community consider polygamy as a status symbol. Thanks to an unbalanced gender ratio in the camps, Rohingya men may feel entitled to contribute to decreasing the number of unmarried women in the camps. The researchers found that the high population density is a contributing factor in increasing polygamous marriages in the camps.

A Rohingya bride (left) and the bridegroom wearing sunglass (right) in camp in Cox’s Bazar. -Photo: Ayat Ullah Shipon

Religious Interpretation:
Referring the Rohingya people, the researchers of ACAPS said that a lack of religious guidance and different interpretations of religious texts have contributed to an increase in polygamy inside the camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Why Rohingya Women are Interested in Bangladeshi Men?
The researchers of ACAPS show in their research findings that the marriages between Rohingya women and Bangladeshi men are also increasing like the polygamous marriages.

The research shows that some Rohingya women seek to settle in Bangladesh by marrying a Bangladeshi man. Meanwhile, the host community men can derive economic benefits and access to humanitarian aid from an intercommunity marriage.

According to the research, it is revealed that the host community men marry Rohingya women without legally registering the marriage and therefore can leave the women without facing any repercussions.

The Bangladesh Government in 2014, issued a circular imposing a ban on marriage registration between Bangladeshis and Rohingyas “non-Bangladeshi nationals” from neighboring Myanmar to address the threat of an increasing population.

Protection Implications due to Polygamous Marriages:
The researchers of ACAPS identified some implications due to polygamous marriages in Rohingya settlements in Cox’s Bazar such as exploitation, abuse, and other forms of violence. Due to an increase of polygamous marriages in Rohingya community, women may tolerate more sexual and gender-based violence out of fear of their husbands taking another wife.

Anecdotal evidence shows a higher rate of physical, emotional, and sexual violence, including marital rape, on women in polygamous marriages in the camps, said the researchers of ACAPS. Additional economic pressure on families and abandonment and absence of recourses are also on the rise in the camp, said the researchers.

Rohingya Wives Face Social Stigma and Harassment:
The researchers of ACAPS reveal that once men enter polygamous marriages, the community treats first wives differently. The independent researchers of ACAPS also said that these women lose their status in the community. Rohingya women usually do not get to consent to their husbands taking additional wives.

A Rohingya bride is being prepared for her marriage at camp in Cox’s Bazar. -Photo: Allison Joyce, Getty

Specific Impacts on Rohingya Children:
The children of polygamous marriages experience a variety of consequences that affect their wellbeing, education, and economic situation, hindering their development. Daughters from polygamous marriages are also at risk of child marriage, said the researchers of ACAPS.

Other Protection Implications from Polygamous Marriages:
There are some specific protection implication arising from polygamous marriages, one of which is rejection of Rohingya wives by the man’s family and community and related discrimination.

Meanwhile, polygamous marriages put some adverse influences on cultural practices leading to discrimination among the Rohingya community. The researchers of ACAPS in their research identified a risk of sexual violence and exploitation cases involving humanitarian workers from the host community.

According to the UNHCR, there are 925,380 forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals (FDMN) living in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar and Bhasan Char island.

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-Writer Roton Malo is a freelance journalist and development worker. He is working at Caritas Bangladesh’s Emergency Response Program (ERP) for the forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals (FDMN). Contact Email: [email protected]

This article was first published by Dhaka Courier on 24 July 2022.