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Forgotten: Children Born of War

By Sabine Lee & Heide Glaesmer

(Mass) rape and other atrocities, often committed systematically against the civilian population, are now receiving increasing ­attention when investigating the social consequences of armed ­conflict. As a result of brutal warfare in the present and recent past, and the landmark Security Council resolution 1325, there has also been a legal reassessment of these phenomena.

Conversely, the fate of Children Born of War (CBOW) has long been overlooked. These children are conceived by foreign or enemy soldiers and born to local mothers in a range of consensual and non-­consensual sexual encounters. However different the circum­stances of their conception may be, or the relationships between their parents, these children often experience similar multiple dis­advantages in their family and social environment. Many grow up with single, marginalized mothers in precarious conditions, are discriminated against and/or stigmatized as descendants of the wartime enemy or occupier, and are therefore also at greater risk of experiences of abuse and neglect during childhood.  

Identity issues stemming from the absence of their fathers, deliberate concealment of their origins, changes of care­givers, as well as a more or less open hostility and exclusion in their immediate and wider environment are matters of particular concern for these children. The article illustrates the multi-layered, also ­intergenerational consequences using the example of German CBOW of the Second World War, who even as adults are significantly more likely to report mental health problems.

To increase the chances of a lasting peace, the needs of CBOW must be taken into account when supporting survivors of sexual ­vio­lence, but also in transitional justice processes. Appropriate ­measures include better education and preventive training for the armed forces, as well as assured financial and psychosocial support.

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