10 Jun 2014

Why we must recognise the needs of the children of rape

It’s easy to be cynical about summits, and – like most journalists – I am. But it’s hard not to support this week’s Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.

It’s not that I think the new international protocol they hope to sign will make an immediate difference to women and girls at risk of rape right now – of course it won’t. But any high-level effort to draw attention to the issue matters, and – over time – putting sexual violence at the centre of peacekeeping and war crimes investigations could make a difference.

Last week I visited the village of Kibilizi in southern Rwanda, where a group of women have spent the last 19 years trying to bring up the children of rape. All Tutsis, the women had been raped by Hutu men during Rwanda’s genocide 20 years ago. This wasn’t a random act of violence – there was a plan to force Tutsi women to have Hutu children and to break their spirit. The women struggled to accept the babies, often beating and cursing them, sometimes even trying to kill them.


Olivier, left, can’t bear to hate the man who raped his mother, Epiphane.

It’s only with the help of a counsellor, Marie Josee Ukeye, that the mothers have learnt to love their children. For seven years she has held twice-weekly group therapy sessions in the village. She has also worked with the children, now aged 19, who have – unsurprisingly – picked up their mothers’ trauma.


Josiane, 19, is both affectionate and resentful

Unlike genocide orphans, the children of rape don’t qualify for Rwanda government assistance and most aid projects concentrate on the mothers. But helping the children is equally important – they are victims too. At 19, the children of rape in Kibilizi have exactly the same ambitions and dreams as any other Rwandan of the same age: to go to university, to travel, to get a good job. But they are held back by extreme poverty, lack of confidence and stigma.


The women help each other till the land as their family members were killed in the genocide

Sexual violence happens in all conflicts, but knowing that is not the same as accepting it. Recognising the needs of the children of rape is as important as acknowledging and trying to ameliorate the suffering of their mothers.

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Read more: Rwanda 20 years on: the tragic testimony of the children of rape, by Lindsey Hilsum, The Observer, 8 June 2014

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4 reader comments

  1. barbara robertson says:

    To have the same ambitions is obviously unrealistic. just as it is unrealistic and unnecessary for everyone in the UK to go to university. The world is a mosaic of levels ,lifestyles and abilities. What is necessary is the need to find a way that enables a means for survival and a lifestyle enabling some satisfaction hopefully and happiness within the legal framework of society.

    There are many in the western world who yearn for more but find a way within their lives of achieving a balance between unrealised ambitions and reality. Values need to be reinforced and taught. As for rape it is the lowest form of the need for the male to be dominant.

    Maybe scientists should be looking at modifying some of the violent traits in the male as they seem unable to control it themself., Difficult I am sure ,maybe even impossible in which case the punishment for violation should be very very severe.

    Values should be taught in schools and a few basic rules emphasised. I recall that as a child the basic values of Do not kill, do not steal , control your temper etc. were really not considered to be anything other than absolute and our horror at their violation was universal. Verbal teasing and bullying too need to be forcefullyaddressed.

    Today violence is beamed at us .Nothing seems to stop the relentless wave of horror. I watch crime drama on tv. but mainly because the good guy usually wins and it is a form of reasasurance


  2. michael says:

    Love is Blind, Thank god the rest of us are not..

  3. David Russell says:

    There is one organisation that is focused specifically on helping these children born to women survivors raped during the genocide – Foundation Rwanda. The organisation supports over 700 of the children to attend secondary school, as a result of not having access to funding to do so from the Government of Rwanda. And with its partner organisation, Survivors Fund (SURF), enable both the mothers and the children to access counselling.

  4. tracy tindale says:

    A child is born from a woman. From birth there should be no differentation from gender, colour or creed, no matter where the child is born.
    To be fair this is an idealistic opinion, but if put to the vote, I believe there would be universal aggreement.
    Unfortunately men across our world have adverse perspectives of the women who struggle to raise the next generation. Without them we would cease to exist.
    We are currently discussing the issues of women raped and traumatised during military struggles. I fail to comprehend how any government can condone this behaviour. Without a population of child bearing women their population will reduce dramatically (bearing in mind those violated and abused, may no longer be productive…or alive…)
    I apologise, I’m too upset to continue. I just hope progress is made on a global scale to address these problems.

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