The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Where is the Global Attention to Children Born of War?

February 21, 2008

Went on BBC World for the first time yesterday to talk about protecting children born as a result of sexual violence in conflict zones like Darfur, Bosnia, Rwanda, East Timor, you name the conflict zone where rape has been endemic, you’ll find a host of children growing up in the aftermath.

The segment just before my interview focuses on children conceived during the Rwandan genocide.

As I describe in my interview and as the volume of essays I published last year details, these children are often (though not always) treated rather badly in the aftermath of wars, either by their states, local communities or sometimes their traumatized mothers.

The big puzzle for me as a scholar of global agenda-setting in the human rights area is that lack of attention to these children by the international community. 300,000 child soldiers galvanizes the Security Council, but half a million or so children at risk of infanticide, neglect, abuse, social exclusion or statelessness remain invisible.

I wrote about this before and talk about it a bit on the segment. Am continuing to collect thoughts on the matter from anyone who cares to ruminate on a grim and depressing topic. Your comments will help me refine an argument for my new book about how the human rights network exercises an agenda-denying as well as agenda-setting function.

Here’s one of my theses: nobody owns an issue like this. Child protection agencies think of stigma against children born of rape as a gender-based violence issue. So they assume that women’s groups are covering it. Gender-based violence experts tend to focus on the trauma to the direct victims of rape, not long-term inter-generational effects on their babies. They see the protection of those children as falling to the child protection agencies. So the babies fall through the cracks.

How many other issues or populations are out there that get missed by advocacy organizations because they don’t fit the ideational and organizational turf of the NGO sector?

What other factors explain this or other such cases?

+ posts

Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.