Children born of War Innovative Training Network – Final Conference and Network Open Event
One of the (un)intended consequences of armed conflicts are children born to local mothers and fathered by enemy soldiers or peacekeeping forces. In research these children are referred to as “children born of war” (CBOW). Their common features are their perceived association with the enemy and resulting exposure to risk in various spheres of their lives as well as violation of their rights in post-conflict societies. Even though these children were born throughout history and continue to be born from current conflicts around the globe, this topic is in many countries still taboo. The Horizon 2020 Marie Curie Innovative Training Network “Children Born of War: Past, Present and Future” (CHIBOW) aims to increase the knowledge regarding this vulnerable population and to provide new perspectives on CBOW’s lived experiences in conflict and post-conflict situations.
After a welcoming address and brief introduction about the CHIBOW network by its coordinator SABINE LEE (Birmingham) and director of training HEIDE GLAESMER (Leipzig) this final conference of the interdisciplinary research network started with one of the fundamental and most complex issues of CBOW: their identity. As it was brought up by the first speaker SASKIA MITREUTER (Leipzig), CBOW often have no knowledge of who their biological father was. Seeing it from a psychological perspective, the father’s background has an influence on self-perception and therefore also a person’s identity. In this regard KANAKO KURAMITSU (Birmingham) stressed the role of the ethnicity or ethnical origin for the CBOW and their search for identity. The father’s origin can not only support the development of the CBOW’s sense of belonging, but sometimes even the child’s socio-economic situation. This depends on the official policies of the father’s country of origin accepting these children as citizens. Allowing such benefits can have a motivational character and therefore it may affect the identity-forming process. Moreover, according to EVA KÄUPER’s (Rouen) presentation official policies aimed at acculturation of CBOW have an impact on cultural aspects of their identity. ‘Erasing’ their roots can lead to suffering from a sensation of ‘being in between’ – being foreign in one’s own country. Questions concerning the way and time of disclosing to children who their biological father is remain open for further research. A discussion came to the conclusion that there is no ‘black-and-white way’ of dealing with this situation. Further support in this complex matter may come from a psychiatric approach.
The psychological challenges that both the mothers – victims of sexual violence – and their children are facing were the main topic addressed in the second panel. AMRA DELIĆ (Greifswald) introduced her quantitative study of CBOW from a very recent conflict – the war in Bosnia and Hercegovina. According to Delić’s research, children conceived as a consequence of rape by either soldiers or foreign humanitarian workers show signs of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. Their overall majority could describe traumatic events related to their origin. Similar aspects were apparent also in the interviews conducted by SOPHIE ROUPETZ (Leipzig) with children born of rape during World War II. These children experienced insecurity in their relationships to their mothers, feelings of guilt and of being a burden without understanding why. Some of them were able to reconnect with the parent only later in life. KIMBERLEY ANDERSON (Psychotraumacentrum Zuid Nederland), who also conducts her research on rape survivors and their children, presented practical aspects of the work with these groups: Children born of (war) rape and their mothers proved to be a very difficult category to work with, on both scientific and practical levels; however, they played an important role in recognizing rape as war crime.
CBOW have become an important issue for policymakers, for example the United Nations, which proclaimed June 19th the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict.
The next panel also treated the aspect of sexual violence within the CBOW topic, this time concentrating on a single country: Uganda. ELEANOR SEYMOUR (Birmingham), researching the relation of gender-based violence that took place during war-time as well as peace-time in the patriarchal society in Uganda, pointed out that combined with factors like patriarchy and polygamy, alcohol also proved to be an important impulse for gender-based aggression. Ironically, the empowerment of women after the war can be an additional reason for violence committed against them. HOLLY PORTER (London) studied the relation between societal arrangement and cultural beliefs based on the case of children born of rape. Meanwhile EUNICE APIO (Birmingham) used the connection between the symbolism of eating and preparing food for a similar research question. In the ensuing discussion, the important issue of transcultural communication and its limits arose, most of all in connection with the different ways of how the traumatic experiences, personal emotions and mental states are described by the Ugandan women themselves.
The second day of the conference started with a keynote lecture by JOCELYN KELLY (Cambridge, Mass.), Director for Harvard Humanitarian Intiatives’ Women in War Programme. In her presentation, Kelly highlighted the importance of cross-cultural understanding, that is seeing people and societies in a holistic way. She also stressed the role of a gender-balanced approach in both research and practice. According to Kelly it is necessary to work with the entire community, not solely with women, as the way the victims of gender-based violence are treated by their own family and community is often more traumatic for them than the experience of violence itself. Perhaps surprisingly, men are indirectly affected as well, often feeling the shame of not being able to protect their homes and families and facing social stigma.
The topic of community and family and their impact on Ugandan CBOW and their mothers was also a key aspect in the work of BONIFACE OJOK (Birmingham). The mothers, often rejected by their own families, but supported by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), see the solution in moving to the city and raising responsible, well educated children. Education and state educational politics were also addressed in the presentation by MACHTELD VENKEN (Vienna) who focused on children living in borderland regions in Belgium and Poland between the world wars. As Venken pointed out, language education policies became a way for politico-geographical entities to manifest their power in the borderlands, exercised even through primary schools. Venken’s paper was preceded by NATASSIA SERSTÉ (Rouen), who presented her project on children fathered by soldiers during the Vietnam War. Depending on the different treatment received in the countries where they grew up (Vietnam, France or the United States), Sersté questions the concept of “Vietnam War Babies” as a unique group and emphasized the differences between them.
LUKAS SCHRETTER (Graz) opened the next panel with his presentation about the role of NGOs in connecting Austrian mothers and British (soldier) fathers after World War II. He argued that the responsibilities that governmental as well as military authorities failed to fulfill can be assumed by a third party. Notably, a NGO campaigning for rights of CBOW reached an international agreement on financial support for struggling mothers to receive voluntary payments from the biological fathers of their children. MICHAL KORHEL (Ústí nad Labem) also focused on the post-World War II period in his study of the differences between the political practice and real experience of children born in mixed Czech-German families before and during World War II. Korhel showed that like CBOW, also children born of interethnic relationships may experience stigmatisation, discrimination and other forms of violence when one of their parents is associated with the enemy. Based on specific court trials before the International Criminal Court, EITHNE DOWDS (Belfast) introduced present-day legal practices regarding CBOW. Dowds pointed out the importance of persecuting sexual and gender-based crimes committed against women as sole legal basis on which to reach the children born of such transgressions.
In Eastern and Central Eastern European countries CBOW are still being ignored as a group and documentation of the topic is rather scarce. Yet, the topic of CBOW was indirectly brought up and represented within other issues that the post-war regimes had to deal with, such as the so called ‘collaboration horizontale’ or abortion. As JAKUB GAŁĘZIOWSKI (Augsburg) and OSKARS GRUZIŅŠ (Riga) showed that, in spite of the ‘wall of silence’, this topic also appeared in literature, film and other art media. Thus CBOW were made a subject of (public) discussion in (post-)socialist countries. However, LISA HABERKERN (Katowice) made clear in her presentation that national (master-)narrations are often incongruent with memories of violence and discrimination that are transmitted within an affected family.
As it was stated above the topic of CBOW continues to be ignored in many countries or remain a taboo. At the conference, participants also discussed possible dissemination strategies beyond the academic ones. Based on her experiences as a journalist and documentary filmmaker, MARTA KASZTELAN (Cambodia) recommended in her keynote lecture for researchers to build “alliances” and work with photographers, filmmakers, journalists, activists or NGOs. In order to share research findings as widely as possible, Kasztelan also suggested writing op-eds and feature articles. Finally, the so-called “Network Open Event”, that was opened to the public, presented practical examples (book readings, a photo exhibition, docu-dance-theater and the animated film “Michiko”), aimed at sharing research on CBOW beyond academia.
 See Sabine Lee, Children Born of War in the Twentieth Century, Manchester 2017; Ingvill C. Mochmann, Children Born of War – A Decade of International and Interdisciplinary Research, in: Historical Social Research 42 (2017) 1, p. 320-346; ibid., Reflections on the Definition and Categorization of “Children Born of War”, in: Acta Medica Academica 46 (2017) 2, pp. 180-181.
“Children Born of War: Past, Present and Future” has received funding from the European Union‘s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 642571.
For more information about the CHIBOW project see its official website, https://www.chibow.org (15.09.2018).
Authors: Anna Kolářová, Institute of Economic and Social History, Charles University, Prague; Michal Korhel, Department of History, J.E.Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem
Published in: Tagungsbericht: Children born of War Innovative Training Network – Final Conference and Network Open Event, 27.06.2018 – 28.06.2018 Leipzig, in: H-Soz-Kult, 26.01.2019, <www.hsozkult.de/conferencereport/id/tagungsberichte-8068>.