Underage Rohingya girls are forced into abusive marriages in Malaysia so their families in Bangladesh can eat. In safehouses, AP met with child brides who managed to get unlocked from their bedrooms to share their plights.
Human rights workers warned it would be almost impossible to track the girls down. Yet an AP team not only found them, but interviewed them without putting them at risk of reprisal.
Investigative correspondent Kristen Gelineau, based in Sydney, Australia, tracked down an advocate in Malaysia who was herself a Rohingya child bride and carefully coordinated a plan with each girl. Some concocted an excuse to leave their homes and met with AP at safehouses. Many simply could not get unlocked.
Thanks to knowledge of the community, the team coordinated interview times with the girls so they could arrive at their homes after their husbands had left for work and leave well before they returned.
In addition to juggling safety concerns, Indonesia video journalist and business correspondent Victoria Milko filmed in their dark and claustrophobic apartments, capturing both the youth and isolation of the girls while protecting their anonymity.
McKinnon de Kuyper made a heartbreaking edit of the video, taking advantage of previous filming of Rohingya families who were victims of a boat drowning by video journalist Garjon Al-emrun.
No other media had written their stories, and readers responded, calling it “extraordinary,” “heartbreaking” and “profound,” and asking how they could help. One reader in Australia donated AU$1,000 to “S,” the pregnant, homeless teenager at the end of the story. S recently gave birth to a baby girl, who died three days later, so the money will go toward paying off S’s hospital bill and getting her housing. The Royal Malaysia Police also reached out to the AP.
For allowing the AP to be the first media to give these girls a voice, Gelineau, Milko, de Kuyper and Al-emrun are Best of the Week — First Winners.