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The Rohingya Suffer Real Horrors. So Why Are Some of Their Stories Untrue?

At times, there is a benign explanation for children telling untruths. Young minds can process lived memories and secondhand ones in remarkably similar ways.

“Even if some children have only heard of atrocities, fear has been instilled in them and it’s very hard for them to separate what they’ve seen from what they’ve heard,” said Benjamin Steinlechner, a spokesman for the United Nations Children’s Fund in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. “It’s like watching a horror movie. Children experience it very differently from adults.”

I have a better sense of the life of Mr. Hossain, the four girls’ father.

His troubles, he said, began when he was briefly back in Myanmar and saw a 12-year-old girl with fair skin and delicate features.

“She was so beautiful,” Mr. Hossain said. “I needed to marry her.”

Child marriage is distressingly common among the Rohingya, and soon, Mr. Hossain began shuttling among his three wives. Not every wife knew about the other, but Mr. Hossain didn’t think three wives were too many. His own father, he said, had six wives and 42 children.

Yet Mr. Hossain admitted that he was not adept at balancing family relations. When his four daughters sought shelter in Bangladesh after their village had been burned, Sajida, the wife with whom he has been living in the Leda refugee camp, was furious.

“My husband is a bad man,” she announced, after she finally admitted the girls’ true provenance. “I am tired of all his lies.”

Later, when I reached Mr. Hossain by phone, he was seething.

“I beat her when you left,” he said. “I will beat her again tomorrow.”

Mr. Hossain’s sister-in-law had also explained part of the family’s complicated truth. A neighbor later relayed that her candor had earned her a beating from her husband.

Rather than highlight the plight of unaccompanied minors, my reporting had catalyzed domestic violence in two households. I regretted the days of questioning Ms. Sajida, who goes by one name.

I had found her unsympathetic when she said she wished those girls would disappear back to Myanmar. But that night her husband would beat her. As I stood and judged her for not embracing these four girls from her husband’s youngest wife, a cockroach skittered across the floor. A rat followed.

Ms. Sajida began crying.

All around, through the bamboo slats that make up the walls of a Rohingya shelter, children’s eyes followed my movements, wondering what I was doing there and why I had made a grown woman weep.

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News credit : Nytimes

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