Recognition of Children Born of War

Amila Husić

Children born of war (CBOW) are a specific category of civilian war victims which have been mostly, if not completely, forgotten in the (post-)conflict context. Even though women and children have special protection status according to the Geneva Conventions and other sources of IHL, in practice, this status does not guarantee legal recognition and insurance of their rights by law. Besides the Women, Peace and Security agenda, which only indirectly touches upon CBOW, there are no international legal acts officially recognizing CBOW as such. This issue has been brought to attention in both academic and political discourse since the beginning of the 21st century, along with conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), primarily in the conflicts in Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the alarming magnitude of CRSV had been identified. This led the international community to establish ad hoc Tribunals, namely the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The purpose of this article is to provide basic information on CBOW and its lack of legal recognition.

Definition and categories of CBOW Although the research on CBOW is minor compared to other war victims and post-conflicts phenomena, there is a consensus on the definition of CBOW, considering the differences in contexts and backgrounds of conflicts and children born of said conflicts. The ‘War and Children Identity Project’ (WCIP) defines children born of war as ‘a child that has one parent that was part of an army or peacekeeping force and the other parent a local citizen where the weight is on the stigma these children can be subject to as a result of their background’. Based on this definition, children born of war may be categorised in four main types: 1) children of enemy soldiers; 2) children of soldiers from occupational forces; 3) children of child soldiers; and 4) children of peacekeeping forces.


In most cases, CBOW are results of wartime rape and other acts of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). However, CBOW may be born out of consensual relationships, which has resulted in a debate on whether this factor should be taken into account when determining the rights of children. Some scholars argue that treatment should vary when the children are born out of wartime rape in comparison to those born out of consensual relationship and later abandoned. Others argue that all CBOW face the same stigma and social ostracism therefore, further division would only further infringe their rights and the child’s best interest, and continue to fuel the stigma they face. The current consensus is that all categories should be treated equally until further research is done which might provide insight into the differences in the needs and issues different categories of CBOW face.

Stigma of CBOW Regardless of the context of the children's origin, or the nature of the relationship between the mother and father and the general circumstance of the (post-) conflict situation, CBOWs share one common denominator – social stigma. Worldwide, CBOW have been, and continue to be, subjected to dehumanising collective naming practices by the communities in which they live. These include: “Chetnik babies” (Bosnia and Herzegovina), “children of hate” (Rwanda), “children of shame” (Kosovo), “children of the green people” and “paraquitos” (little paramilitaries) (Colombia), “children of the enemy” (Timor-Leste) and “Kony’s children” (Uganda). The primary risk of stigmatisation, discrimination and rejection children born of sexual violence face within their own families and societies is often driven by a child’s perceived association with the “enemy” or a “foreign” father. From birth, a child’s identity and sense of belonging are contested, creating dangers for their physical security and emotional well-being. Their mothers are perceived as women of questionable morals who either betrayed their country and nation by entering consensual relationships, or did not fight off their assaulters and are therefore perceived as weak and guilty for crimes not committed by them, but to them. Rarely are wartime rape victims seen as victims. The children are perceived as tainted, children of the enemy, and are therefore marginalised, since most societies share the belief that “the apple does not fall far from the tree” and that the children inherit traits and nationality from their biological fathers.

Lack of legal recognition

Regardless of the aforementioned, there is yet to be any formal legal recognition of CBOW. There are no domestic laws regulating the status of CBOW, neither is this category nor specifically dealt with in any international legal act. There are many NGOs and networks worldwide formed by CBOW to fight for their rights and recognition. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, Zaboravljena djeca rata (Forgotten Children of War), an NGO based in Sarajevo comprised of CBOW from the 90s armed conflict, are working with public officials and parliamentarians to either integrate CBOWs in existing laws or formulate a lex specialis to create a system for reparations to be possible, and mitigate damages suffered due to stigma and general post-conflict issues. With this lack of formal legal recognition, all CBOW are faced with a lack of institutional support when asserting their rights as indirect civilian victims of war or seeking their rights from their biological father via legal pursuits. Paternity suits and child support claims were difficult to lodge, as foreign administrations proved to be disobliging. The Norway War Child Association unsuccessfully sued Norway for treatment allegedly endured as ‘war children”‘born out of the Nazi Lebensborn scheme and authorities’ subsequent failure to take any remedial measures remedies, as the European Court of Human Rights declared the Thiermann and Others v. Norway case inadmissible on grounds of the case being outdated. The only formal recognition of CBOW was made by the United Nations (UN), but only for children fathered by UN staff and related personnel, a mere subcategory of CBOW. As a consequence of the allegations against members of the UN peacekeeping forces, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution United Nation Comprehensive Strategy on Assistance and Support to Victims of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by United Nations Staff and Related Personnel in December 2007. According to this resolution, the UN commit to providing assistance and support to three different categories of persons: (a) complainants; (b) victims; and (c) children born as a result of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN staff or related personnel. Also, the Resolution envisions support for children born as a result of sexual exploitation and abuse - The UN will facilitate the pursuit of paternity and child support claims for victims, where desired by the victim and legally applicable, in cooperation with the relevant State.


However, the effectiveness of the Resolution is questionable based on the reports from places where there were high numbers of these cases. For example, in Haiti, where many women were left to their own devices after being impregnated and abandoned by UN peacekeeping forces. Many women whose children are fathered by UN personnel do not know the full names of the soldiers, let alone all the necessary details for pursuing legal remedies, child support and other legal remedies.

Conclusion The depth of the issues that CBOW face in post-conflict societies is difficult to portray in simple terms. Furthermore, the cultural and systematic context greatly influence the problems they face. Most children are either murdered or abandoned after birth, as the mere existence of the children acts as living reminders of the horrendous crime committed against the women. During the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, many NGOs received and treated raped women and their offspring. Zagreb Caritas received around 150 raped women, of whom around 60 per cent were pregnant. Director Jelena Brajsa remembers the first 15 pregnant women who arrived in 1993. All had been repeatedly raped. After delivery, four babies were transferred to Obrenovo for medical treatment, two mothers kept their babies and the remaining nine were collected by the Bosnian embassy and Red Cross and later returned to Bosnia. There, two were taken by their families, two were adopted and the remainder were placed in institutions. The “lucky” ones who are not abandoned, face social stigmatisation such as name-calling, threats, systematic discrimination. Ajna Jusić, a children born out of wartime rape from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, is an avid activist for CBOW in B&H. She often speaks of discrimination she faced as a child from her community, as well as from government institutions later in life, as most documents require the father’s name as identification. Her life is portrayed in Jasmila Žbanić’s 2006 documentary “Grbavica”. Children born of war have been invisible throughout history, the research done is insufficient and little has been done to improve their position, mitigate damages and ensure the protection of their rights. Let this be a reminder of the very real aftermath armed conflicts cause. Let us not forget these children any longer and continue the research in order to ensure future CBOW are never invisible.



Written by: Amila Husić

Edited by: Jessica Honan

Published by: Elizabeth Cheetham


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