This Platform for Action is a sister document to the Call to Action to Ensure the Rights and Wellbeing of Children Born of Sexual Violence in Conflict (CtA). While the CtA represents a pledge to work with and for children born of conflict-related sexual violence, this Platform outlines how we will do this. It provides context for understanding the challenges faced by children born of conflict-related sexual violence and outlines a set of urgent priorities for addressing these challenges, providing a framework for coordinated action.
Governments, UN entities and civil society organisations are encouraged to concurrently endorse the CtA and make commitments under this Platform. Commitments are being compiled by the PSVI Team in the UK Foreign,
Commonwealth and Development Office, as coordinators of this initiative.
Sexual violence is too often a reality for all people living in conflict zones around the world, particularly women and children. The circumstances in which sexual violence is committed can vary. For instance, it may be used by military forces as a tactic of war and/or may amount to torture. As outlined in the Secretary-General’s 2022 report Women and girls who become pregnant as a result of sexual violence in conflict and children born of sexual violence in conflict, one of the ways armed actors have used sexual violence as a tactic of war and ‘ethnic cleansing,’ including forcibly impregnating women and girls. Military personnel, peacekeepers and humanitarian workers may also opportunistically commit sexual violence amidst a breakdown in rule of law during and following conflict. Crimes involving sexual violence have been documented in Colombia, Rwanda, Uganda and the former Yugoslavia, and are being reported in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic and elsewhere.
The root causes of sexual violence, as with all forms of gender-based violence, lie in structural gender inequalities and patriarchalnorms. These are further compounded and intensified by the widespread societal acceptance of men’s use of violence against women, girls and boys with impunity. Women and girls then face further barriers with a lack of access to appropriate sexual and reproductive health services particularly in fragile and conflict affected states to ensure immediate and longer-term medical care.
Furthermore, a society’s understanding of ‘childhood,’ including at what age childhood ends, what agency or vulnerabilities are inherent at different ages and stages, and what role communities have in protecting children, can also increase the risk of violence against them. Sexual violence is used as a tactic to terrorise and demoralise communities and so children may be specifically targeted to maximise fear in the community.
In such situations, child survivors’ and children born of conflict-related sexual violence’s vulnerability “to abduction, recruitment and use by armed groups and forces and to conflict-driven trafficking and sexual exploitation” is increased.
While there is no comprehensive data on the exact number of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence who give birth to children as a result, it is estimated that 20,000 children were born from conflict-related sexual violence during the civil war in Sierra Leone alone. Given the perpetration of sexual violence has been and continues to be witnessed in conflicts the world over, the true global figure is likely to be significantly higher, with children born of conflict-related sexual violence in every region of the world. While no two contexts are the same, the mental, physical, emotional, social, economic, political and security costs of sexual violence can be devastating. These consequences deeply affect survivors, including those who become pregnant as a result and their children, who are often marginalised, their needs ignored, and their rights violated and abused.
Some children born of conflict-related sexual violence have expressed feeling ‘invisible’ and ‘unrecognised,’ and of remaining ‘in the shadow of war’ even after the war has ended.7 The barriers they face have lifelong impacts on their ability to live life in all its fullness, in turn impacting their futures and those of their communities and nations. Furthermore, for every child born of sexual violence, there is a woman or girl whose life chances may have been dramatically affected and whose relationship (or absence of any relationship) with the child can lead to mental health impacts for years to come. Some adolescents face stigma and discrimination when pregnant which may be further compounded by a pregnancy from sexual violence. And yet, survivors and children born of conflict-related sexual violence demonstrate great strength and resilience, which must be supported through active engagement and further empowerment.
Source: Government of the United Kingdom