UN Ignores Children Born of Rape in War Time
NEW YORK, August 1 (C-FAM) As the issue of sexual violence has risen at the UN, the matter of the children born of that violence has fallen precipitously.
Forgetting Children Born of War shows how these children have been deliberately ignored because of pressure from governments and feminist groups claiming the children are merely incidental to sexual violence or, worse, co-aggressors against women. The author, R. Charli Carpenter, is a professor of international relations at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
“Scattered around the globe,” Carpenter laments, “children born of rape victims struggle for food security in refugee camps…yearn for family in orphanages…worry whether their mothers will abandon them…search for birth mothers and fathers across oceans…and long for the day when the subject can be addressed in the councils of nations.”
The book seeks to find out why human rights groups have played bystander. The answer lies in the way the sexual violence in conflict agenda has been set: in terms of ethnic violence, painting the children as agents of the enemy, and by feminism, pitting the rights of the children against that of their mothers.
A turning point came in 1998 when “forced pregnancy” was codified as a crime in the Rome Statue establishing the International Criminal Court. Previously, “enforced impregnation” was proscribed by international humanitarian law. Feminists claim the new formulation reflects their view that pregnancy is a distinct war crime in addition to that of rape.
The feminist’s interpretation of “forced pregnancy” was explicitly rejected in the Rome Statute creating the International Criminal Court. The UN bureaucracy is wont to ignore the decisions of the Member States, however, and the rejected interpretation is implicit in the claim being made this week by the Secretary General that abortion is a right of reparation to war victims.
Carpenter says the massive incidence of rape during the war in Bosnia was a watershed event that turned feminist logic into legal arguments and catapulted the feminist agenda at the expense of child rights. She notes that Beverly Allen’s influential book Rape Warfare suggested that infanticide could be psychologically healthy for the mother, and that Allen likened enforced pregnancy to biological warfare. The Center for Reproductive Rights argued that pregnancy “maximizes the pain of rape” because it “prolongs physical and emotional pain.” Other feminists said the pregnancies were genocidal, representing a foreign occupation of the womb, preventing reproduction of another and therefore representing a form of destruction.
“Through such intellectual and semantic gymnastics,” Carpenter says, “forced pregnancy was constructed both as a component of rape and a specific crime itself, under the rubric of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.” The violations of the child’s rights were ignored, and instead they were “invoked as evidence of the atrocity.”
Sensationalist media and post-conflict criminal trials perpetuated the perception that these children were unwanted, Carpenter says. News reports and the questions asked by prosecutors at the trials deliberately highlighted incidents of mothers aborting, abandoning, or killing their children after birth.
UN agencies and major human rights groups did not just overlook the children’s plight, Carpenter finds, they considered the issue and then deliberately rejected it due to competing concerns. Beginning in 1996, successive UN reports on sexual violence made no mention of the children. A Canadian report from a conference in Winnipeg removed such references. Norway denied funding for a children’s rights advocacy group seeking to initiative an international treaty. A UNICEF representative pulled support from a 2006 conference, saying he “remained to be convinced of the merit of UNICEF treating these children as a specific group.”
Carpenter’s most illustrative example is her brief consulting work with UNICEF in Bosnia in 2005 when she managed to convince a country representative to fund a survey of surviving children. When the results were in, UNICEF refused to make the report public, saying it feared the reaction of some NGOs and governments.
Carpenter concludes that UNICEF has acted as the gatekeeper on the issue, keeping the children born of rape in war off the international agenda.
This is Carpenter’s second book on the issue, following an edited volume and numerous papers on the subject. Forgetting Children Born of War displays her command of the subject and her ability to put the issue into the broader context of international agenda setting.
Yet Carpenter misses the mark when she includes the Pope in her examples of leaders who did not fully champion the children born of war. She quotes St. John Paul II twice and both times inaccurately – misquoting one source and basing her analysis on fragmented quotes from a secondary source in another case. Remarkably, the Pope’s letter (English translation) being misrepresented in both instances does exactly what Carpenter says she wishes world leaders would do – he declares the war child as fully human, indisputably innocent, and urgently in need of protection.