Tomorrow (26 October), Poland, in partnership with Bolivia, France, Germany and South Africa, will organise an Arria-formula meeting on the plight and rights of children born of wartime sexual violence. The briefers include Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF Omar Abdi. There will also be briefings by representatives from two countries that have experience in addressing the issue of children born of sexual violence in conflict situations: Ambassador Masud Bin Momen (Bangladesh) and Ambassador Mohammed Hussein Bahr Al Uloom (Iraq). Civil society briefers will be Evelyn Amony, co-founder and chairperson of the Women’s Advocacy Network in Uganda;. Charo Mina-Rojas, Human Rights and International Working Group of Proceso de Comunidades Negras ; and Betty Sunday Ben Kute, Coordinator of the Women’s Monthly Forum in South Sudan (by video teleconference). The meeting will be open to all UN member states, observers, and non-governmental organisations.
According to the concept note circulated by Poland, the main objective of the meeting is to learn about challenges faced by children born of war and the measures that have been taken to support their social integration and legal status. The concept note suggests that a discussion of lessons learnt would allow members to take stock of good practices that could be applied to current conflict and post-conflict situations where sexual violence is prevalent. Another key objective of the meeting is to reflect on the role of the Council in addressing the situation of children born of sexual violence as part of its efforts to maintain and restore peace and security.
Patten is expected to provide an overview of the issue and discuss why more attention should be paid to these children. In June, speaking at the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, Patten announced that in 2018 the theme would be on the “plight and rights of children born of war, who have long been a voiceless category of victims, often relegated to the shadows of society, marginalized, undocumented, and sometimes left stateless.” She also highlighted the link between the mothers’ stigmatization, social exclusion and discrimination, and the fate of children born out of rape, who are at risk of infanticide, abuse, abandonment and rejection. In addition, Patten may provide an update on the work her office is doing in this area, including in relation to Iraq, where it is involved in research on children born of rape, particularly in relation to options for their legal registration and social integration. The mandate of the UN Mission in Iraq includes assistance to the Iraq government’s efforts, and those of the UN Country Team, to strengthen child protection, including the rehabilitation and reintegration of children into Iraqi society.
Another situation that Patten may cover is Myanmar, which she visited in December 2017 and June 2018. Members may be interested in hearing about the commitments Myanmar government officials made to her about addressing conflict-related sexual violence, including the stigma suffered by survivors of sexual violence and their children.
Abdi is likely to talk about UNICEF’s work in providing support to governments that deal with this issue, including Iraq and Bangladesh.
The representatives of Bangladesh and Iraq are expected to share lessons learnt in addressing the issue of children born of sexual violence. Al Uloom may speak about the joint communiqué signed by the Iraq government and the UN in 2016 on the prevention of and response to conflict-related sexual violence in Iraq. One of the commitments in the communiqué is to ensure the “provision of services, livelihood support and reparations for survivors and children born of rape.” A particular challenge in Iraq is children born as a result of sexual violence perpetrated by ISIL fighters. These children do not have a recognised nationality and are often viewed as a threat to security and “guilty by association”.
Momen may provide information about how Bangladesh has worked with the UN in addressing the issues around babies born of sexual violence in a refugee camp. In Cox’s Bazar, there was a spike in the number of babies born in May, nine months after the August 2017 violent crackdown on the Rohingya in Rakhine State, which resulted in over 750,000 refugees fleeing to Bangladesh. Earlier this year, the UN estimated that there were 40,000 pregnant women in the camp, with 25,000 babies expected in May and June, although it is difficult to be certain how many were the result of rape. Many pregnant women tried to hide their pregnancies or attempted abortions.
The civil society participants from Uganda and Colombia are expected to speak about the experiences of children born of wartime sexual violence in their countries as the basis for possible best practices for current conflicts. Amony is the chairperson of the Women’s Advocacy Network, a forum made up of war-affected men and women who advocate for justice and accountability for sexual and gender-based violations during the conflict in northern Uganda. Mina-Rojas, a Afro-Colombian human rights defender, briefed the Council during the open debate on women, peace and security last year and is an advocate for gender-based human rights. Betty Sunday Ben Kute is a South Sudanese doctor who has worked on women’s rights and empowerment, particularly the empowerment of girls.
While sexual violence is very much a focus of the Council’s work in the women, peace and security and the children and armed conflict agendas, the specific issue of children born of wartime sexual violence has not been closely examined in the Council. In considering the Council’s role in addressing this issue, Council members will be interested in the broad implications of the vulnerability of these children to recruitment and trafficking and the implications of this issue for peace and security.
Some members may raise the need for recognition that these children are war victims in their own right. Colombia is the only country that recognises children conceived of rape as victims with the right to justice, reparation and redress. Members may suggest that Colombia’s example could be a best practice for other countries.
There may also be interest in how this issue can be integrated into the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict’s mandate with regard to sexual violence against children. The Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict lists parties that perpetrate rape and other forms of sexual violence in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria. There may also be interest in how children born of sexual violence in conflict can be part of reintegration efforts in situations that are part of the children and armed conflict agenda.