Intended for healthcare professionals


Rape as a weapon of war in modern conflicts

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 24 June 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c3270

Children born from wartime rape are victims too

Kivlahan and Ewigman clearly highlight the issues that make rape and
sexual violence in conflict one of the most challenging human rights
violations for the international humanitarian community to address.1
However, the authors omitted to describe the children born as a result of
rape in conflict as victims.

Sexual violence as a tactic of war can inevitably lead to children
born as a result of rape; this was particularly documented in the
Bangladesh Liberation war, the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, and the
Rwandan genocide.

The outcome for many children born of rape is not known. A child as a
permanent reminder of the circumstances of its conception can lead to
rejection by the mother. The fear of social stigmatisation, anger and
depression can result in infanticide or abandonment.

Although many children born from rape in conflict are accepted by
their mothers and viewed as innocent victims of war, they may be subjected
to discrimination and experience violation of their human rights. The
children born from rape during the Rwandan conflict were described by the
public as children of hate, unwanted children or children of bad
memories.2 In the wider social context, how communities and families
perceive an individual who is deemed to be ethnically different and a
'child of the enemy' can deeply influence the physical and emotional well-
being of children born from rape.

The issue of the plight of children of rape growing up in a society
that rejects them has remained hidden. Seeking justice for survivors of
sexual violence is beyond immediate humanitarian aid and criminal
prosecution. It should involve a holistic approach that involves community
rebuilding and reconciliation to accept the existence and vulnerability of
children born from rape in wartime.

1 Kiklahan C, Ewigman N. Rape as a weapon of war in modern conflicts.
BMJ 2010; 340:c3270.
2 Papineni P. Children of bad memories. Lancet 2003; 363: 825-26.

Competing interests: No competing interests

17 September 2010
Padmasayee Papineni
Specialist trainee year 3 infectious diseases/general medicine
King George Hospital, Ilford, Essex.