Warning that this post contains very sensitive topics that may be triggers for some, including rape and other horrific atrocities.
I have been reading articles regarding the 1971 War in Bangladesh, specifically the violence and horrific acts including rape and sexual exploitation committed against the women and young girls. The realities of what they faced, the lack of protection, or ability to make their own choices. It is humbling just to read the stories, that go beyond my comprehension to fully understand what they endured, and how they survived to continue on. It is history that no one speaks about, and also history that keeps repeating itself over and over. The women and young girls are not the first to suffer these crimes against them during wars, nor are they the last. It is happening right now somewhere in the world, as I try to find the words to convey how deeply impacted I am just reading about it. Words are failing me and perhaps it is better just to provide the links to those with more skill and knowledge.
This is the article that started me reading and it is not an easy read. I also need to admit to feeling really uncomfortable with the terminology used in all the articles such as “war babies” and “rape babies”, but it is not for me to make that choice, it is for those directly impacted to decide.
I then followed the paper trail the author provided and went to this article and interview of one of the Australian doctors linked below. The doctor interviewed was pretty frank about how he tried to help, and why, and also painted a not so nice picture of the adoption agencies motives. Note this article is very frank and graphic.
In every single war or conflict women and young girls are raped, and babies born as a result of those rapes. Many of the babies are sent for international adoption – sometimes regardless of what the mother wants, or because there is no way to keep their child, or because the harm done to the mother both during the rape, and afterwards by society is too great to bare. While adoption might be seen as a humanitarian solution, a way to save the children, it must also be recognised that pain, loss, and incredible suffering happened, and doesn’t go away.
What is also very dismaying is the lack of accountability or acknowledgement of these crimes against women and young girls. These parts of history are not talked about, they make us uncomfortable. They make us ashamed.
PPL has this reference to the Bangladesh – war babies (1971) which is a synopsis of what agencies and countries were involved in the adoption of the babies.
The paper below written within the last ten years covers a lot of ground on multiple wars - both historically and with challenges for the future - and brings to light the failings of all of us. Please read it as I have only selected a few of the many salient points to highlight.
“War’s Impact on Children Born of Rape and Sexual Exploitation: Physical, Economic and Psychosocial Dimensions” R. Charli Carpenter, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh
Who are ‘War Babies’?
According to a report by from the War and Children Identity Project in Bergen, Norway, tens of thousands of infants have been born of wartime rape or sexual exploitation in the last decade alone (Grieg, 2001).4 If we add together the estimated numbers of war-rape orphans, children born to women held captive as sexual slaves or “wives” of military troops, and children born to women exploited by foreign soldiers, peacekeepers and even humanitarian workers, this emerges as a problem of enormous global scope with respect to securing fundamental human rights for children born into the midst of war. The Grieg Report estimates the number of all living war babies at 500,000 (Grieg, 2001:7).
It speaks to the realities of what happens to the mothers and babies in their country torn apart by war, and the harm done by family, extended family, and society in general. That long-term realities are harsh. Yet here is how the global community may react…
Adoption. There is conflicting evidence regarding the likelihood of war babies being adopted. These prospects may be indirectly affected if they are physically or mentally handicapped at birth (Becirbasic and Secic, 2002). In some contexts, being “born of rape” is described as a direct liability on the willingness of local couples to adopt; those families that have done so have often had to deal with the ostracism engendered by raising a child “of the enemy” (Sullivan, 1996). On the other hand, this appears to be an advantage rather than an obstacle on the international adoption market. In the case of Bosnia, waiting lists existed in Western countries of couples specifically asking to adopt “rape babies,” (Stanley, 1999; Pine and Mertus 1994) and after the 1971 war in Bangladesh, many children born of the rapes were exported to the West (Brownmiller, 1979; d’Costa, 2004).
In many cases a war baby’s opportunities for placement will depend on political rather than ‘market’ factors. Some post-war governments actively seek to remove the children from the national population, while others will not allow such children to be adopted abroad. The new government of Bangladesh constructed a “marry-off” campaign for women raped during the war that depended on their relinquishment of their babies conceived in rape, to be sent to other countries (Mookherjee, 2004). …
The refugee policies of host countries also affect a war baby’s economic status and prospects for adoption if abandoned by its mother at birth. It is notable, for example, that while the UK actively sought to streamline its international adoption procedures to import “rape babies” from the Balkans as adoptees, it maintained restrictive asylum laws that prevented pregnant rape victims themselves from immigrating (Stanley, 1999). Similarly, the desire for Bengali war babies demonstrated by countries such as Canada did not extend to providing asylum for their mothers (Chowdry, 2004). The life histories of children born to pregnant women seeking refuge in neighboring countries (and therefore their economic prospects as well as eventual national identities) will be impacted by the extent to which their mothers are successful at seeking asylum, the psycho-social and economic assistance available to the mothers in the host country, and the nature of the host countries’ social safety net for women choosing to give up their newborns.
The paper needs to be read in its entirety, and speaks to the current efforts of the adult adoptees to bring awareness and start a dialogue. The search for identity and challenges it brings. It also speaks to the failings of many institutions to recognise this particular group of individuals and how they are disenfranchised. A call to do better, be better.
This quote seems right to end this post by a quote from The Dalai Lama
“We have to find ways to encourage non-violence, compassion and respect for others’ rights to achieve a better world in the future.”