War forgotten victims: Vulnerabilities of children born out of rape during war

Rape is a horrifying reality among women and girls. The weapon of Rape often devastates victims with extreme violations and trauma, and women frequently tend to look at themselves as the living dead as they raise children of unknown fathers.

Sexual violence has been used for centuries as a destructive weapon of war against enemies in conflicts across all continents. Sexual violence-related consequences like unwanted pregnancies have left an enormous impact on women and girls and their local communities. This is particularly so when a child is born because of war rape as the mother journeys with the traumatic experiences of not knowing the origin of her child. The social consequences often include hostile relations and memories of the sexual abuse.

Some countries like DR Congo have been dubbed as the ‘rape capital of the world’ due to the systematic use of Rape in protracted conflicts across all genders including women, men, girls, and boys, young and old. Women have been abused as individuals, in groups as well as with objects while held in sexual slavery or sexually mutilated by militias groups, leading to severe injuries, and conceiving of children from unknown fathers. Rape is a violent and invasive act that causes unbearable and lasting pain to rape victims. It is a violent attack on the interior of one’s body and represents the most severe attack imaginable upon the bodily integrity, the intimate self and the dignity of a rape victim/survivor.

As part of my engagement working with the Refugee Law Project, I have had opportunity to interact with mothers of children born because of rape. These mothers have always shared the difficulties they have gone through in raising their children with unknown fathers and their enemies. Mothers of children born in Rape suffer long-lasting psychological and socio-economic challenges in their everyday lives.

The experience of working with mothers of children born of rape has raised my emotions and revealed the realities of the vulnerabilities of children born out of rape. The witnesses and parents raising children born out of rape always tell of the challenges of post-traumatic stress and depression, which continuously affect their parent-child interactions and insecure attachment of their relations in a family and the communities, especially in refugee settlements and the urban-based refugee areas. Raising a child born out of rape contains a lot of problematic dynamics and trials, especially for the parents, families, and communities, and leaves a considerable tragic memory among mothers who experienced sexual violence-related injuries and pregnancies.

Despite the humanitarian interventions for children’s protection, little has been done towards comprehensive support to children born out of rape, especially in targeted service delivery, including their rehabilitation, care, and empowerment. In many cultures, Rape does not only degrade the victims but also humiliates the husbands and communities. Moreover, it is characterized by difficulties in accepting the victims in their families and communities.

The silent suffering of children born out of rape also accelerates their vulnerability and misery. The indifference and the taboo around children born in rape are unforgotten. Many women raising children have difficulty identifying, including tribes, ancestors, and naming of their children; consequently, many often get named according to their birth events.

Additionally, gendered harms, including raping women, and producing children born out of rape, have been highly characterized by trauma and general psychological distress. Rape is a violent and invasive act that causes severe and lasting pain to rape victim’s sense of self and how they perceive others. Rape violates the dignity to the victim, the integrity of the physical self, basic beliefs and assumptions about their social and political environments, others, and relationships.

Besides, rape brings stigmatization, especially in cultures with strong customs and taboos regarding virginity, sex, and sexuality. In interacting with survivors of rape I realize that they often report no joy in delivering a child born out of rape and regularly call them ‘problematic children’. Mothers inevitably struggle with toxic stress in nurturing these children, which results in robust, frequent, and prolonged hardship, physical or emotional abuse and chronic neglect, exposure to violence, family economic hardships, and inadequate emotional, social and economic support.

Understanding the interconnectedness of the impact of sexual violence needs to be deeply investigated for better programming and comprehensive interventions in order to support the family of the survivors of sexual violence in the humanitarian response. |Moreover, humanitarian protection interventions need to be further expanded. Evidence, research, good practices, and lessons learned need to be broadly shared in order to contribute to a better understanding of sexual and gender-based violence issues and the effective response to children born out of rape.

Specifically, there is a need for deliberate efforts to document mothers with children born of war rape in humanitarian response and assistance programmes. Notably, looking at the unique needs of children born of war rape will assist a lot in understanding the invisible disability and struggles of their lives. This protection issue is sensitive and needs an organized conflict-sensitive response design. The converse is that many children, families, and communities will continue to suffer unbearable emotional and physical pain in the absence of meaningful engagements and response.

A disempowered mother wounded by rape, if not empowered, often suffer from vulnerability which arises from physical and emotional harm that severely impact the health, growth and wellbeing of a child born of out conflict.  An empowered mother to a child born out of rape brings natural protection from the mother. Physical health care, psychological support, economic empowerment, capacity building and awareness on parenting, self-awareness, trauma healing creates an enabling environment in which love blossoms.  In the end, “Showing love to a child who had no say in being born shows strength. To deny them love, is worse than killing them”.

Charity Immaculate is a Humanitarian Worker and GBV Practitioner at the Refugee Law Project - Centre for Forced Migrants, at Makerere University School of Law.

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