UNICEF Position on Babies Born of War Rape Still Unclear

By Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D. | April 28, 2017

NEW YORK, March 28 (C-Fam) The UN Children’s Fund recently acknowledged that many of the girls returning from captivity by terrorists are pregnant, but stopped short of treating the maternity of the girls, or the children they bear, as a separate area of concern for the agency.

“Last year, when 21 Chibok schoolgirls were released by Boko Haram, many of them were shunned by their own communities,” a new UNICEF report says. “There was isolation and ostracization that came from the fact that many were pregnant or had babies of their own.” Three years ago, the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped 270 school girls from the Chibok region of Nigeria. The event made international headlines, spurring a “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign that engaged famous figures such as the U.S. first lady.

Since January 2014, 117 children – more than 80 per cent of them girls – have been used in suicide attacks in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, the report says. Twenty-seven children were killed this way in the first three months of 2017.

The acknowledgement of the girls’ pregnancy is a double-edged sword for UNICEF, which left a research consortium on the children born from such abductions in 2006 on the grounds that the babies were not a subject of concern for the organization.

Amherst professor Charli Carpenter examined the plight of the women and their children in two books and found that UNICEF pulled support for the consortium, and quashed the findings of a project she led, in part due to UNICEF’s concerns about crossing the powerful reproductive rights lobby at the UN.

“If children born of war cannot integrate into society, their mothers cannot re-integrate,” Eunice Apio told the UN Security Council in 2015. Thus, governments and international partners must have programs specifically for children born from rape in warfare, as well as for their mothers. Apio is president of FAPAD Uganda and has spent two decades working with abducted girls and their children born of wartime rape.

UNICEF titled the report “Silent Shame” because the girls “remove themselves from other groups for fear they might be outed and alienated even further.”  To find the girls, UNICEF says it is enlisting the aid of religious and community leaders to help dispel the perception that the children were complicit in crimes committed during their captivity. The report did not mention the distinct version of discrimination faced by children fathered by enemy soldiers and terrorists.

In 2014, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued guidance asserting that the laws of war require nations to provide for abortions of these children conceived in rape, and last year reiterated the assertion, claiming that such children were vulnerable to recruitment by insurgents. There is no legal basis for his assertion, although a few European nations have echoed it.

Apio argues that there is little evidence to say that women want their children conceived in rape to be aborted. “That would be a double stigmatization, first from rape and then from abortion,” she says. The vast majority of mothers she has worked with love their children and want help raising them free of stigmatization and fear.

Apio recommends including the children born of wartime rape as specific subjects of concern for UNICEF and for any reintegration program in post-conflict settings.