Last fall, SEMA members were invited to take part in the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Mandate on Sexual Violence. They came to New York to give compelling testimony about their realities and the pressing need for survivor-centered approaches to change at UN headquarters. SEMA members shared hopes for justice, and they shared the stage with other courageous human rights defenders, including Alen and Nadia of the Forgotten Children of War Association. Here is what Alen had to say:
“I come from a small town located on the coast of the river Drina in eastern Bosnia. I was born in 1993 during the worst time of the war when there was nothing that people needed. There was no electricity, no water, no food, no warmth nor love, there was no hope.
My mother left me two days after my birth and went on with her life. My biological father is a man who was not convicted of wartime rape. I was adopted by a janitor that was working at the hospital where I was born. The Muhic family dared to adopt me. A child that is the result of rape. Those are the people that gave me unconditional love all of these years. The people that treat me like their own child. I never once felt adopted though I knew I was. Today I am happy to be able to speak freely and proudly about myself and my family without a speck of shame. I did not allow myself to be trapped in the victim’s armor and thus remain permanently in a state of helplessness and wait for someone’s mercy.
I’m a fighter by nature. I love people, I love life. I am the father of a 3-year-old son and a husband. I work at the hospital where I was born, at the hospital where I was left by my biological mother, at the hospital where I was adopted. I am an activist and chairman of the assembly of the Forgotten Children of War association. There are children from different ethnic groups in our association. But we are siblings. We are not interested in inter-ethnic divisions. We are one. We love each other and help one another.
The Association Forgotten Children of War was founded in 2015, 20 years after the war. The organization’s primary objective is to initiate and represent the sensitive narrative of war consequences concerning its most innocent victims: the children born of war. There are three subcategories of children born of war; and the majority of these are children born out of wartime rape, sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina.
What these children, who are now adolescents and young adults, have in common are the experiences of stigmatization and discrimination, identity and attachment issues, emotional difficulties, lack of legal rights and status, as well as difficulties in facing the process of finding out the truth and their biological origin.
According to estimates, between 20.000 and 50.000 women, girls, and men were victims of conflict-related sexual violence during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, while the number of women victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking in post-conflict and yet military context after the war is unknown.
The organization is the first of its kind to deal with the repercussions of mass rape and sexual exploitation and trafficking that took place during and after the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the present-day pertinence of speaking out about the large number of children born this way. The general and main problem related to this phenomenon is that these children remained totally isolated and also unrecognized as a vulnerable group.
We are dedicated to providing adequate help and support to the children born of war who suffered violations of basic rights. One of our aims is overcoming negative lived experiences, regaining trust and hope, as well as ensuring opportunities for the construction of a more peaceful, prosperous future for these children and the families they will form.
Moreover, we are focused on raising awareness about the vulnerability of different subcategories of children born of war; the improvement of their psychosocial and legal status in Bosnia and Herzegovina; developing a framework for advocating the changes and amendments in the international and domestic legislation regarding the protection of the rights of children born out of war; supporting their social integration, and fighting stigma and discrimination attached to women survivors of conflict-related sexual violence and children born of war. Networking and collaboration with different institutions, women’s organizations and similar international organizations are also an important part of our activities, and we are proud of our membership in the international association Born of War.
The Association launched an initiative for the legal analysis of the existing laws in B&H that might regulate the legal status of children born of war. Our goal is advocacy directed towards the adoption of a unique law on civilian victims of war in B&H: a law that will not segregate the surviving victims from members of the general population.
Although growing in a society where the leading political elites constantly talk about the past nurturing inter-ethnic divisions and animosities, children born of war from Bosnia and Herzegovina go beyond these barriers, and want to be loyal to humanity to be able to formulate a meaningful vision for a future for everyone.
These are the ways in which we are demanding to end all forms of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict settings, to end child rights violations now, but also supporting the processes of peacebuilding and reconciliation in our country, and beyond.
Lastly, on behalf of all my brothers and sisters, I would like to share a few of their messages:
– we do not want to be falsely portrayed as a “malignant cells of cancer” that are spreading the seeds of hatred,
– we do not preserve a potential for conflict within us, and we are not and we will not be seeds of the new wars,
– we are not the mistakes of war but only human beings, and should be treated as such,
– do not allow our inherent dignity to be trampled and our vulnerability misused,
– instead, we want it to be recognized and respected!
I forgive everyone for all that has been done to me. I don’t hate anyone. Hate destroys and that’s why I have chosen love. It builds bridges and allows for hope. Love is more powerful than hate because love can end violence! In life, in the end, the winner is the one who is stronger than hatred and revenge.”
To find out more about this Association’s activities, you can visit them on Facebook.