Childrenbornofwar: an introduction
Few human rights and children’s rights topics have been met with a similarly
extensive silence as the fate of childrenbornofwar (CBOW) – children fathered
by foreign soldiers and born to local mothers during and after armed conflicts.1
Their existence, in their hundreds of thousands, is a widely ignored reality – to
the detriment of the individuals and the local societies within which they grow
up. Who are they? Where are they? Why are they ignored? And why do they
matter? These are some of the fundamental questions
Who are they? Experiences of children, mothers, families and post-conflict communities
Childrenbornofwar: who are they?
Experiences of children, mothers, families
and post-conflict communities
A novel phenomenon?
One might be forgiven for thinking that the existence of children born as
a result of wartime sexualised violence is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Images of Bosnian rape camps,1 the Human Rights Watch website reporting on mass rape and forced impregnation of black African women by Arab
militiamen in Darfur and Chad,2 journalistic reports about sexual abuse by
UN peacekeepers3 and horrific stories of mass genocide and genocidal
In the early twenty-first century, children fathered by foreign soldiers during and after conflicts are often associated directly with gender-based violence. This book investigates the situations of children born of war (CBOW) since the Second World War, provides a historical synthesis that moves beyond individual case studies, and explores circumstances across time and geopolitical location. The currently used definitions and categorisations of CBOW are presented together with an overview of some key groups of CBOW. Specific conflict areas are chosen as key case studies on the basis of which several core themes are explored. These conflicts include the Second World War (1939-1945) with the subsequent post-war occupations of Germany and Austria (1945-1955). The Vietnam War (1955-1975), the Bosnian War (1992-1995), some African Conflicts of the 1990s and early 2000s, in particular in Rwanda (1994) and Uganda (1988-2006), are also examined. In the case studies, the experiences of the children are explored against the background of the circumstances of their conception. For example, the situation of the so-called Bui Doi, children of American soldiers and Vietnamese mothers is examined. The experiences of Amerasian CBOW who were adopted into the United States as infants following the Operation Babylift and those who moved as young adults following the American Homecoming Act are juxtaposed. The book also looks into the phenomenon of children fathered by UN peacekeeping personnel as a starting point for a discussion of current developments of the international discourse on CBOW.
Childrenbornofwar during and after the
Second World War
In 2006, the Allied Museum in Berlin, under the title ‘It Started with a Kiss’,
documented a particular feature of the post-war occupation of Germany, that
of German–Allied love affairs after 1945.1 The aim of the exhibition and its
trilingual (German/English/French) catalogue was to zoom in on a previously largely untold story of the way in which a multitude of liaisons between
American, French and British soldiers and local German women developed
despite adverse political circumstances in which
Childrenbornofwar: lessons learnt?
CBOW are a global phenomenon. It is likely that the scale of this phenomenon
will never be fully comprehended, as there are many reasons that account for
the fact that data about children fathered by foreign soldiers and born to local
mothers will remain inaccurate and incomplete. Despite this reservation with
regard to exact figures, the analysis of the chosen case studies – the Second
World War and its post-war occupations, the Vietnam War, the Bosnian Wars,
sub-Saharan African conflicts and UN peacekeeping
of child soldiers, and the practice – often forceful and through abduction –
became widespread. All conflicts were accompanied by extensive and in some
cases systematic GBV, and as a corollary most resulted in significant numbers
of childrenbornofwar. These included children born as a result of rape of local
women by members of armed forces or militia men during and after hostilities,
many as a result of sexual slavery and ‘forced marriage’ of abducted female
child soldiers, integrated into rebel forces.2
This chapter will focus on two conflicts in sub
A new dimension of genocidal rape and its children
term, voluntarily or
involuntarily, are able to cope with the experience of motherhood following
the traumatic conception of their child, and anecdotal evidence suggests a
disproportionally high incidence of infanticide in the aftermath of the mass
rapes in Bosnia.50 The fact that the theme of infanticide has infiltrated the literary and societal discourse on childrenbornofwar-related sexual violence51
is an indication that it was part of the popular lived experiences. Of the case
studies collected as part of a UNICEF study of GBV in Bosnia, two cases ended
a two-day workshop in Vienna
for nine people (myself included) who are researching children born
to black GIs and European women. We found many parallels in the
stories of unknown fathers, racism and stigma, and are producing a
publication that compares these different experiences of mixed-race
childrenbornofwar across Europe.41 This will, I hope, complement
the important comparative work of Sabine Lee and others on ‘childrenbornofwar’.42
The working lives of the adult ‘brown babies’
Returning to the British ‘brown babies’ interviewed for this book
This book recounts the little-known history of the mixed-race children born to
black American servicemen and white British women during the Second World War.
Of the three million American soldiers stationed in Britain from 1942 to 1945,
about 8 per cent (240,000) were African-American; the latter’s relationships
with British women resulted in the birth of an estimated 2,000 babies. The
African-American press named these children ‘brown babies’; the British called
them ‘half-castes’. Black GIs, in this segregated army, were forbidden to marry
their white girlfriends. Up to half of the mothers of these babies, faced with
the stigma of illegitimacy and a mixed-race child, gave their children up for
adoption. The outcome for these children tended to be long-term residency in
children’s homes, sometimes followed by fostering and occasionally adoption, but
adoption societies frequently would not take on ‘coloured’ children, who were
thought to be ‘too hard to place’. There has been minimal study of these
children and the difficulties they faced, such as racism in a (then) very white
Britain, lack of family or a clear identity. Accessibly written and illustrated
with numerous photographs, this book presents the stories of over forty of these
children. While some of the accounts of early childhood are heart-breaking,
there are also many uplifting narratives of finding American fathers and gaining
a sense of self and of heritage.
48 Quoted in Hakim Ali and Marika Sherwood, The 1945 Manchester
Pan-African Congress Revisited (London, 1995), pp. 75–6, 78.
49 DuBois, ‘Winds of change’, p. 15.
50 Harold Moody to Aneurin Bevan, n.d. [December 1945], appendix 4 of McNeill, Illegitimate Children, pp. 11–13. On Moody, see
Killingray, ‘To do something for the race’.
51 Harold Moody, ‘Anglo-American coloured children’, appendix 6 of
McNeill, Illegitimate Children, pp. 15–17.
52 Sabine Lee, ChildrenBornofWar in the Twentieth Century
(Manchester, 2017), p. 246.
53 Ministry of Health to