Today is the International Day of Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, a day aimed at raising awareness of the need to put an end to conflict-related sexual violence and to honour the victims and survivors of sexual violence around the world.
One such group are children born of wartime rape who are often stigmatised by their own communities due to their associations with political, ethnic or religious enemies. Their identity and sense of belonging are contested, which creates dangers for their physical security and emotional wellbeing. Children born of wartime rape are at risk of violence, abuse, abandonment, discrimination and marginalisation, at the hands of both their families and communities.
They often have less access to community resources, family protection and education or livelihood activities, and are likely to grow up in poverty. They can face challenges in registering their birth and their right to citizenship. The experiences of children born of wartime rape can result in a lifetime of detrimental consequences, and the stigmatisation they experience has continued long into the post-war period. Their experiences differ as a result of gender, perceived ethnicity, social and economic status, as well as structural gender discrimination, especially in patriarchal and patrilineal societies. However, there has been little focus on the perspectives and voices of children born of wartime rape and the impact that being born of rape has on them.
Specific efforts to support and reintegrate children born of wartime rape back into their communities have been scarce. Their lack of inclusion in policymaking has been attributed to children born of sexual violence generally being a hidden population, ethical concerns about ‘doing no harm’, and fears around breaking ‘protective silences’, which may have deterred action. The report: Reintegration of Children Born of Wartime Rape, looked at the available lessons learned in the literature about supporting and reintegrating children born of wartime rape. Key findings include:
Efforts must go beyond addressing single issues
Addressing one aspect of the issues faced by children born of wartime rape is not enough; efforts must address the variety of different problems they face. Generic post-war psychosocial or reconciliation programmes for traumatised populations are not enough on their own to counter the marginalisation experienced by this particular group children and their mothers.
Support for mothers
Children have benefited, emotionally and materially, from support to their mothers. Such support has involved psychosocial, health, and economic support, as well as stigma reduction efforts and the opportunity to meet with other mothers in similar situations. Addressing health and psychosocial needs is a vital first step before economic support can prove useful. However, it is not enough to just focus on support to mothers as children born of wartime rape have some needs which may be in tension with their mother’s needs.
Many children have a need to know who their fathers are for their own sense of self, but the process of disclosure can be difficult. A disclosure experience that goes well can contribute to the self-acceptance of children born of wartime rape and a better relationship with their mothers. They depend on supportive environments and positive communication, as well as the timing and manner of the disclosure. Mothers and children require support pre and post disclosure in order to cope with the emotions disclosure can result in. In some contexts, finding the paternal side of a child’s family can be helpful, if done sensitively and carefully, and only at the request of the child and mother. Even then, for some the tracing process is difficult and exposes children to further emotional and physical violence.
Constructing a positive identity
Children born of wartime rape have tried to construct positive identities for themselves by studying and working hard and contributing to their communities, including by having a role in reconciliation efforts. Advocating for themselves was also seen to be important. Meeting other children in similar situations helped give children a sense of connection, belonging, and self-acceptance. Securing the right to education for children born of wartime rape and supporting them to afford it is important for their futures.
National level policies
Governments should recognise the special needs of mothers and their children born of wartime rape and afford them protection, rights, and benefits. This should be done in a way which does not stigmatise them further. Children should have access to civil documentation to ensure their citizenship rights. Existing legislation can make this very challenging, perpetuating stigma and gender discrimination.
Interventions need to include families and communities to promote acceptance, understanding, and inclusion and tackle the pervasive impact of stigmatisation of children born of wartime rape. Such interventions should involve religious and traditional leaders. Programmes co-partnering children born of wartime rape with other vulnerable children can help prevent community animosity which may arise by singling them out. Recognition of their experiences in transitional justice mechanisms and reparations may be a means of reconciliation.