The Hollow Shell: Children Born of War and the Realities of the Armed Conflict in Colombia

The Hollow Shell: Children Born of War and the Realities of the Armed Conflict in Colombia Abstract∞ This article discusses tensions and dynamics around configuring children born as a result of wartime sexual violence as subjects within the realities in which transitional justice operates. Based on ethnographic research in Colombia, the article explores how a victimhood discourse and an explanatory framing to understand gender-based violence and sexual violence as a weapon of war, have restricted the emergence of these children as independent war-affected subjects. Instead, they have emerged as subjects that play a part in the social negotiations around victims of wartime sexual violence – for instance, gender and forced maternity – or around perpetrators and their constant presence in the history of the communities. To understand the plight and role of these subjects within the political community, transitional justice frameworks must contest the normative approach to harm, as these women and men were conceived by war but are not defined by it. INTRODUCTION In more than half a century of armed conflict in Colombia, but particularly during the last 20 years, unknown but significant numbers of children have been born as a consequence of sexual violence committed against girls and women by members of armed groups such as paramilitaries, guerrillas and government forces. According to one estimate, between 2001 and 2009 more than 489,687 women and girls were victims of at least one form of sexual violence in the context of the conflict.1 And according to the records of the Unidad para las Víctimas, the governmental agency in charge of articulating measures of redress, 19,684 people have been recorded as victims in relation to ‘harms against their freedom and sexual integrity.’2 Considering that pregnancies are a possible outcome of sexual violence, one would expect a significant presence of children born as a consequence of those abuses in the country, yet the official records present a number of only 533.3 I do not introduce these figures to discuss problems of underreporting and how official and quasi-official figures may not represent the reality of the sexual violence committed against women, and the children born of that violence. Instead, I start with those figures because they reflect the tensions and dynamics involved in configuring children born as a result of wartime sexual violence as victims of the armed conflict in Colombia. I propose that this is not a story of silence, because silence requires knowledge and the power of concealment. Rather, the story of the category of children born as a result of wartime sexual violence in Colombia is one of unintelligibility – their physical existence has not been objectivized in the intersubjective reality in which the human rights discourse and the technologies of political transition operate. Worldwide, children born of war have not emerged as independent subjects of concern and redress among the categories of war-affected children. In the case of Colombia, however, these children were included as official victims of the armed conflict in the 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law. Nevertheless, they have not been prioritized by human rights organizations or by the institutions implementing transitional justice mechanisms in Colombia. In this sense, these children have not gained a place in any of the victims’ agendas and have instead fallen into a grey area between networks working with war-affected children like child combatants, and networks working on gender-based violence in the context of the armed conflict. The realities of wartime sexual violence in Colombia are evidence that these children’s physical presence in the country cannot be underestimated. They appear in the testimonies of wartime sexual violence survivors and have been officially categorized and named by the Colombian state as victims, yet children born of war remain socially invisible to the institutions and agencies that seek to address the consequences of the armed conflict. In this article, I explore some of the social processes through which children born of war in Colombia have become part of the realities of the armed conflict that are officially addressed and institutionalized. The fact that these children are recognized as victims under Colombian legislation could be seen as an attempt to break the silence imposed on wartime sexual violence survivors and their sons and daughters through impunity, state negligence and fear. In this context, I argue, the lack of attention the plight of these children has received by the media, scholars, government agencies and human rights organizations reflects not so much a desire to hide a topic but an inability to see it. The official category of children born of war was created and yet these children are not part of the reality of war that is subjectively meaningful for those public and political actors. Nevertheless, the physical existence of these children in war-torn communities and their mention in the testimonies of sexual violence survivors represent a tension in this argument. How can these children be unintelligible when we know they are part of the realities of the Colombian armed conflict? I argue that political and public discourses have incorporated into their operational reality information about children born of war through processes that have prevented the emergence of those children as independent subjects of concern and action. Information about these children has indeed circulated. The processes through which it has circulated, however, have restricted their configuration as independent subjects within the explanatory framings for apprehending the experiences of war. This article follows two trajectories. In the first two sections, I address how the collective phenomenon of children born of war has appeared in the imaginary of human rights organizations and transitional justice agencies in Colombia through stories about how these children are being stigmatized in their communities. This static notion of victimhood is represented in the label of paraquito4 (little paramilitary), which has restricted the understanding of the dynamic experience of these children as war-affected people, while denying that they are not solely defined by the violence that conceived them and that their identity transforms as they grow older. I then address how children born of war have not emerged as subjects within the explanatory framings for understanding the experience of war-affected children. Instead, they have emerged as subjects within the framings for understanding wartime sexual violence, playing a role in reinforcing social representations of their mothers – as victimized subjects – and their biological fathers – as the incarnation of evil. This article is part of a larger ethnographic study on narratives about children born of war in Colombia. Most of the fieldwork took place between December 2015 and June 2016 in the municipality of Buenos Aires, located in the southwestern department of Cauca, particularly in the community of San Miguel, which is undergoing a process of collective reparation. In that community, paramilitaries established the military base from where they operated to the north of Cauca from 2000 and after their demobilization in 2004. Sexual violence was systematically committed against women and girls and, as a result of those abuses, children were born. My data collection was organized through participant observation in Buenos Aires, social cartography sessions with women and men from the community, in-depth semi-structured interviews with members of the community, as well as with scholars and representatives of the Colombian government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working with gender-based violence in the context of the armed conflict and war-affected children. Further, I conducted ethnographic content analysis of online media and legal documents under Colombian legislation. Considering the exploratory nature of the research and with the best interests of the children in mind, I did not interview any children but instead focused on the narratives, logics and dynamics produced around children born of war. Although in Colombia there has not been any research done on the plight of these individuals, studies from other contexts show that they are often stigmatized and that their human rights are compromised in a number of ways due to the circumstances of their conception.5 With this in mind, seeking to involve these children in the research under the criterion of ‘being born of sexual violence’ could have singled them out, reinforced stigmatization and put them at further risk. I acknowledge the limitations that not having talked to children impose on my research and the importance of recognizing their experience and agency. However, I made this theoretical and methodological decision based on an ethical assessment of the historical, political and social context in which my research is embedded, and a commitment to long-term processes that recognize community dynamics and times. For the purposes of this article, I focus my analysis on the revision of the 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law and on interactions and interviews with local leaders, human rights advocates and representatives of NGOs and government agencies whose positionality within the architectures of transitional justice places them within networks working with war-affected children or with gender-based violence in the context of the armed conflict. Whilst the article focuses on Colombia, I contribute to broader conversations within the growing field of interdisciplinary studies on children born of war,6 understanding that category as ‘persons of any age conceived as a result of violent, coercive, or exploitative sexual relations in conflict zones.’7 This article also contributes to broader discussions on victimhood and gender-based violence against women and girls in the context of war, and the ways through which transitional justice mechanisms can also create silenced and marginal subjects while reproducing structural forms of oppression. LIVING IN THE SHADOWS: HUMAN RIGHTS, TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE AND CHILDREN BORN OF WAR In a ground-breaking decision, the Colombian Victims’ and Land Restitution Law included children born of war in the definition of the category of victims of the armed conflict. Through this legislation, the state of Colombia acknowledges that due to the circumstances of the conception of these children, they experience specific harms and types of violence and as a result are entitled to redress. Although there is this official recognition, and human rights advocates working with women’s and children’s organizations further highlight the importance of focusing efforts on understanding the situation of children born of war, there are no official programmes addressing their plight or NGOs working to raise awareness of their situation. In a 2015 visit to the country, Zainab Hawa Bangura, former UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict, manifested her extreme concern about what she called ‘the silent issue of children born out of rape.’8 That same concern seemed to be a constant throughout the several meetings and interactions I had with members of the government and human rights activists. In an interview with representatives of Unicef (UN Children’s Fund) Colombia, and while talking about the different challenges in terms of providing mental health and psychosocial attention to the victims of the conflict, Child Protection Officer Rocío Mojica mentioned that among all the issues still lacking attention, ‘the topic of children born of war seemed to be the most hidden one.’9 In a broader context, the lack of attention to the situation of these children is by no means unique to Colombia. Indeed, they have remained unattended by the international community and official global human rights discourses.10 Although there are groups raising awareness of the situation of these children and developing academic research – such as the War and Children Identity Project in Norway and the International Network for Interdisciplinary Research on Children Born of War – the children have not gained a place within the official umbrella of children’s rights or in the agendas of transitional justice processes. In fact, when the subject appears, it usually does so in the language of gender-based violence, specifically in relation to sexual violence and women’s rights.11 In relation to war-affected children in general, since the early 1990s different transnational networks have raised awareness about the impact of war upon children and have succeeded in placing the issue on the international human rights agenda.12 The emergence of categories such as ‘child combatant’ and ‘refugee children’ is understood within the human rights discourse as an achievement in the struggle to protect children from the impact of violent conflict and oppression. Nevertheless, the human rights agenda does not cover the whole reality of war and it is not neutral and apolitical. In the case of children born of war, Charli Carpenter notes that there is something that has ‘convinced activists at many locations in the child rights network that the political and normative risks of advocacy outweighed the possible benefits.’13 One perspective within the global advocacy network is that raising awareness about the plight of these children might put them at further risk.14 The argument is that by creating this specific category of concern, children could be singled out and the risk of stigmatization and discrimination could increase, together with a concern that in many cases children might not know the context of their conception. Although these are legitimate concerns, Carpenter argues that they do not explain why this issue has been neglected.15 However, this perspective is not prevalent within the child protection networks and a counterargument claims that if the category is not clearly established and discussed, it is impossible to design public policy and programmes to accurately address these children’s needs. Further, although it is true that in many cases children do not know the circumstances of their conception during the first stages of their life, it has been identified that this reality is often impressed on them through practices of discrimination and labelling within the community.16 Finally, the risk of increasing stigmatization also applies to other populations that have gained a prioritized place within the human rights advocacy networks, like children affected by HIV and AIDS or child soldiers.17 The inclusion of these children in the Colombian victims’ legislation implies that they are recognized as victims and, most importantly, as bearers of rights within the political community of the nation-state. According to Pablo de Greiff, UN special rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of nonrecurrence, state recognition of victims is a normative-based conception of recognition, ‘since recognising victims as right-bearers involves recognising the norms that establish a regime of citizenship.’18 Questions about the construction of the human rights agenda and policies of political transitions, and why some topics are included whereas others are not, are deeply related to sociopolitical negotiations about reconciliation as a vehicle for social stability.19 Within those negotiations the categories of ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ are not factual and apolitical notions, but the outcome of debates on what past societies are going to acknowledge, who is going to be part of the political community and what future is going to be constructed.20 In that sense, at the core of those negotiations is a ratification of the political community and its norms, and a question about who belongs to it and which roles those individuals are being granted. When discussing notions and definitions of ‘victims’ and ‘perpetrators,’ one needs to bear in mind that ‘under different political circumstances these subject positions would have been occupied by different individuals.’21 Within the regime of citizenship, recognizing someone as a victim is given in terms of normative notions, as it is not suffering but notions of harm that are acknowledged.22 This normative approach to people’s pain creates legal categories which aim to account for people’s experiences of violence. That implies that the focus is not on the extensive and complex ways in which violence shapes people’s lives, but on legally defined understandings of suffering. Thus, categories of ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ restrict people’s experiences of violence and suffering, legitimizing some experiences over others.23 In the case of Colombia, the inclusion of children born of war in the definition of victims in the Victims’ and Land Restitution Law represents a landmark in the jurisdiction to address the plight of war-affected children. It acknowledges their existence as subjects that emerge from war but that have a place and role in the present of the political community. However, unlike other categories of victims that were also included in the definition, such as forced disappearances or child combatants, this inclusion was not the result of a political negotiation around children born of war as war-affected children. Rather, it was the result of decades of women’s struggles to make visible the existence of gender-based violence and the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. Although including these generations of children in the legislation opens the door for opportunities in terms of truth, reparations, reconciliation and accountability, the fact that they have not been part of the social and political negotiation around the consequences of the armed conflict and how to address them implies that the category is empty of social meaning. There is an absence of explanatory frameworks to understand the effects of the armed conflict on these individuals, the possibilities for redress and their role in the project of the society’s future. Although the existence of children born of war in Colombia has been made visible, women’s organizations and organizations working with war-affected children have not included them in their agendas. The former has focused efforts on gender-based violence and the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, and the latter has built networks and infrastructure around child recruitment. This scenario has translated into an idea that the situation of children born of war is an essential topic to address, and of paramount importance for their future, their mothers and the future of their communities, together with an almost complete absence of debate and of official and private programmes and strategies working with them. In a conversation with Unicef Colombia, Child Protection Officer Esther Ruíz addressed the lack of initiatives and actions towards children born of war: We’ve been trying to propose a project for over a year now but it’s proven to be very difficult. Our idea was to assess at a national level the extent of the presence of children born of war. Of course without stigmatizing them but acknowledging that the first problem we need to solve is the institutional invisibility of these children. And we don’t want to expose them, but we do need to understand the kind of expert attention those children require. We know there are cases in different regions, but there is no clarity at all about their situation, if there are more cases in some specific regions than in others, or if they are mainly fathered by paramilitaries. We believe that to start thinking about this will contribute to the work of the Truth Commission in the future, because otherwise this topic will remain hidden and won’t be part of the truth the country aims to reconstruct. Also because we don’t know if those children are receiving the reparations they are entitled to.24 Despite the lack of information about children born of war and the absence of social movements leading a struggle that represents them, these children were included in the Victims’ Law as victims of the Colombian armed conflict. However, this official acknowledgement has not been enough to place them as a category of concern and action within the human rights agenda. María Eugenia Morales, former director of reparations of the Unidad para las Víctimas, described the fact that these children are now recognized as victims as a great achievement. However, when asked about the lack of attention that remains around the topic, she said: The inclusion of these children in the definition of the category of victims happened at the very last moment of the debates. That was not part of the previous discussions and was not foreseen. It was the representative of UN women [Julissa Mantilla], who had been also part of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who pushed the topic onto the agenda. She insisted and insisted. It was in the very last minute. Before that the topic was completely invisible. I would say that in part that explains why the topic has had so little diffusion.25 Debates about war-affected children in Colombia have focused mainly on displacement and child recruitment,26 a focus illustrated in academic debates, NGO reports and inclusion in the legal framework of the country. Among all the categories of war-affected children, child recruitment has gained a privileged place in the social maps of the human rights networks when thinking about relations between childhood and armed conflict. In my fieldwork interactions with activists, scholars and public policy makers working with human rights-related topics, people often assumed that I was researching child recruitment – even after I had presented the research project and directly asked about children born of war. On many occasions, I found myself trying to lead the conversations out of the framework of recruitment and use of children, and interviewees often reminded themselves as they were speaking that ‘that’ was not the main topic of conversation. ON STATIC IDENTITIES AND CROPPED EXPERIENCES My first encounter with Ruth happened in her family house. We had talked over the phone several times but poor telephone signal had prevented us from having any conversation that lasted longer than a couple of minutes. The day before our meeting she gave me the indications I needed to make the four-hour journey from Cali to her house in one of the rural veredas of Buenos Aires. I had read the name of the organization Ruth represents in a magazine article that led me to the location of Buenos Aires, and the very few mentions I had found of the situation of children born of war in that region often included mentions of this victims’ organization. Ruth explained how she engaged with the stories of children born of war. Her organization was working on a project with a women’s national NGO and she was the link between the NGO and sexual violence survivors in the community of San Miguel. One day, while sitting in front of the school in San Miguel – the same school that functioned as a storage and training base for paramilitaries for over five years – and talking with one of the women from that community, a boy came out of the school crying and sat close to them. Ruth tried to console him. When she asked what was wrong, the boy told her that the other children kept calling him paraquito and that he did not want to go back to school. ‘It’s very sad,’ Ruth said, ‘that situation of los paraquitos it’s very sad.’27 That was also the first time that I heard a reference that I would encounter over and over in different situations and locations: las mujeres de San Miguel (the women of San Miguel). That category was used by locals and human rights activists to configure a rigid and oppressive imaginary of a homogeneous collective of raped women. As I found out later during fieldwork, there was a very tense relationship between Ruth’s organization and local leaders from San Miguel. La junta de acción comunal (the communal action board) did not feel that Ruth’s organization represented the interests of the community and claimed that its members had tried to use the experience of San Miguel to somehow find profit within the bureaucracies of transitional justice and reparations to victims. Among the different controversial topics, the one of las mujeres de San Miguel was passionately presented to me by Astrid, one of the leaders of San Miguel. She told me how at some point she thought that joining Ruth’s organization would be a good idea: When they presented the idea of creating an organization that would bring together victims from the different rural areas of Buenos Aires it sounded like a good strategy to negotiate with the government. It’s always better to be organized…[However,] it did not work because in the very first meeting they started telling lies about us. The meeting was in another vereda. I think they didn’t know there were people from San Miguel in the meeting, because one of them said in front of everybody that we had to organize ourselves to make the government compensate us for cases like las mujeres de San Miguel; that because they had all been raped their husbands had been forced to leave.28 Over time, I also became more familiar with the geographies of Buenos Aires; the landscape has played an essential part in framing different experiences of the armed conflict. Displacement, confinement and massacres are part of the history of violence of Buenos Aires, but the dynamics of the armed conflict have imposed different forms of oppression on different communities. People from the valleys and on strategic paths for the trafficking of drugs and weapons, like Ruth, were among the first groups of mass displacement in that region. The mountain where San Miguel is located – together with lack of infrastructure to access the area – provided a good opportunity for surveillance and training, and so became a paramilitary stronghold. People’s experiences of the armed conflict are not only defined by armed groups; they are also shaped by the same policies that aim to address the consequences of violence. In the case of sexual violence survivors in Buenos Aires and their children born of gender-based violence, the architecture of transitional justice – represented in the possibility of implementing collective reparations, individual compensation for victims, and nongovernmental projects with legal psychosocial aids – has contributed to the creation of two cropped identities of war: los paraquitos and las mujeres de San Miguel. Ruth’s organization’s attempts to render visible both experiences have played a part in the process of configuring those subjects. Around 2010, Ruth’s organization was involved in two different projects with two well-known national women’s NGOs. Although not implemented at the same time, both projects sought to address the plight of sexual violence survivors in San Miguel using a legal and psychosocial approach. What they also had in common is that their link with the community was Ruth – although she is not from that community – and that, for safety reasons and with women’s well-being at heart, they did not hold any sessions in San Miguel. Public stories among organizations working with victims about women and children born of war from Buenos Aires come mainly from the time those projects were implemented – approximately five years after the paramilitary demobilization, in a period of economic, social and political movement in the region. Paramilitaries had demobilized but still had a very strong presence in the area. The first paramilitary trials took place – one of them for sexual violence, and there were initial signs of governmental presence – after a long history of state negligence and abandonment, under the umbrella of transitional justice promises. Although the stories come from those years, they are told in present time – individuals who were born as a result of sexual violence are still addressed as children. Their identities are assumed to be defined by stigmatization, and although the way the community understands them has shifted,29 they are still labelled as paraquitos. Both NGOs have tried to continue their projects with the community but funding is scarce and they have prioritized other regions. The dynamism and realities of war, resistance and endurance at the local level are not necessarily in conversation with the economies of the human rights system. Stories told in present time about heterogeneous experiences of sexual violence against women, and children labelled as paraquitos, are snapshots of people’s experiences of war that contribute to the configuration of static notions of victimhood. They represent arrhythmic notes in relation to the realities of the communities, but are embedded with a symbolic power within the human rights discourse. As in the case of Buenos Aires, what is known about children born of war in Colombia comes mainly from women’s organizations that work with gender-based violence in relation to the armed conflict. After the paramilitary demobilization in 2005, some women’s and children’s organizations and agencies working in armed conflict-related areas started hearing stories on the ground about the children of sexual violence survivors being called paraquitos in their communities. The label brought attention to these children, who until then had been invisible in terms of human rights concerns. Ana María Jiménez, a human rights lawyer with expertise in war-affected children, noted: I think it is very pertinent that you are working on this topic. For example, in terms of reconstruction of collective memory and the debates that are yet to come. Because in the case of those children many people have used adjectives…calling them paraquitos has been the most dreadful thing. It was that what really made the topic visible.30 Labelling practices, coupled with the reference to 533 children that I introduced at the beginning of the article, portray a social dilemma about whether these children are understood as war-affected subjects themselves, or whether they are associated with the mother or the father, with the victim or the perpetrator. Within the realities in which the policies of transitional justice operate, the intelligibility of subjects as victims of the armed conflict is also given in relation to familiarity and expectations. The system of values of the political community is projected onto an imaginary of ‘ideal’ victims and perpetrators whose silhouettes are apprehended within the already established social, political and legal order. During my conversation with human rights lawyer Ana María Jimenez about the different obstacles war-affected children face in order to access redress, she told the story of a young man whose biological father was a paramilitary: While I was working on a report about access to reparations for children, we found the testimony of a young man whose access to compensation had been denied because he was fathered by a paramilitary commandant. The discourse behind this is very complex because he was not assumed as a victim but he was associated with the perpetrator.31 The testimony of the young man presented in the report Ana María mentioned says: My mum tells that she wanted to testify and she went to one of the offices of the government, but no one listened to her because she had been the woman of a paramilitary and had a child of his. The person who talked to her said that we were not victims but perpetrators. He said there was nothing to do. I don’t understand that, because we haven’t hurt anyone.32 Although the report does not specify the context of the relationship and the conception of the child, or provide further development on the situation of children born in the context of war, the testimony raises questions about the expectations society has of those subjects named as victims.33 The English and Spanish words for ‘victim’ come from victima, the Latin word for sacrificial animals. Jan van Dijk has tracked this reference of victims as the ‘sacrificed ones’ to an association of the plight of victims with the suffering of Jesus Christ.34 Van Dijk notes that although the term fosters compassion, it also imposes a social role of passivity and unconditional forgiveness. For subjects to become intelligible as victims, their experience of suffering and oppression is filtered through legal categories, and their response to that violence is assessed through the moral system of the political community – ironically, the same political community that allowed their suffering to take place. Stories of endurance and survival are understood as part of the victimhood narrative as long as they are in conversation with the dominant economic, social and political values of society and do not challenge the social order. Following Mark Neocleous’ approach to resilience, the danger of the kind of resilience that is valued within the political economy of victimhood is that it wants compliance, not resistance. This kind of resilience, Neocleous notes, ‘does demand that we use our actions to accommodate ourselves to capital and the state, and the secure future of both.’35 Beyond the legal argument of whether children born of war are entitled to redress, the testimonies presented above illustrate the social negotiations that shape the subject and identity of children born of war through notions of gender, sexuality and reproduction. Depending on how those negotiations take place, children born of war are presented either as subjects in relation to sexual violence survivors, or as subjects in relation to perpetrators of wartime sexual violence. These narratives that aim to make intelligible the armed conflict and its consequences have restricted the emergence of children born of war as independent war-affected subjects, whose life experiences are related to but not completely defined by the experiences of their parents. The collective phenomenon of children born of war has appeared in the imaginary of human rights organizations in Colombia mainly through stories and rumours about these children being labelled in their communities as paraquitos. Human rights organizations tell these stories in present time, without knowing whether the situation has persisted in the communities or the ways it has changed. Through these narratives, a static notion of the identity of these children is produced and reproduced. This snapshot of the story of children born of war creates a very restricted approach to them as war-affected children. It assumes that children are defined only in relation to the violence that conceived them, and fails to understand the dynamism of their development as human beings within their cultural and sociopolitical contexts. SHAPING THE CATEGORY OF CHILDREN BORN OF WAR AND THE DISCOURSE OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE While reviewing the testimonies given by sexual violence survivors from Buenos Aires as part of the legal process of reparations, an aspect that captured my attention was that when women were questioned about the consequences of the sexual abuse, they were asked about pregnancies immediately after being asked about sexually transmitted diseases. When discussing the negative burden implied in the collection of testimonies, Mantilla, who was in charge of the gender team of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission and who played a key role in including the category of children born of war in the Colombian Victims’ Law, said: I believe that in this topic what is missing is a previous debate. The interviewer knows that he has to ask about pregnancies but he doesn’t know why. I mean, he might know that he has to ask in order to know how many children, but there was no previous discussion about why we care about that. Is it because otherwise the feminist will yell? No! Why do we care? Is it because it will contribute to redress, to guarantees of non-repetition, to understand the harm? Just when you understand the purpose of a question you understand where to include it and how to make it…This is why the issue of these children is so fascinating. It challenges everything, and no one has really thought about them. That’s why the issue of ‘the invisible generation’36 is so telling; because they are there, but we don’t see them.37 On 27 September 2010, the initial draft of the Victims’ Law was presented for the first time in the Colombian Congress.38 The initial document of the law addressed the plight of war-affected children (Chapter XIII) and stated their right to truth, justice and integral reparations (Article 107). Although it referred to all child and teenage victims of human rights violations and international human rights law violations, the document highlighted the right to integral reparation of some categories of war-affected children: orphans as a consequence of the armed conflict (Article 114), victims of landmines and unexploded ordnance (Article 115) and victims of recruitment and use by armed groups (Article 116). Although throughout the several debates that defined the final document of the Victims’ Law the inclusion of children born of war was not considered, the advocacy of UN Women in the last moments of discussion ensured the topic’s inclusion in the law. This inclusion was reflected in the document of the Victims’ Law published on 1 March 2011 under the section devoted to war-affected children:39 Title VII. Integral Protection of Boys, Girls, and Teenagers Victims Article 174. Rights of boys, girls, and teenager victims. This law will understand as a boy, girl, and teenager every person under the age of 18. Boys, girls, and teenager victims of Human Rights’ violations and violations of International Human Rights Law will enjoy all of their social, cultural, political, and economic rights, and in addition they will have access to: 1. Truth, Justice, and Integral reparation 2. The restitution of their rights 3. Protection against all forms of violence, damage or physical and mental abuse, ill treatment or exploitation, recruitment, forced displacement, landmines and unexploded ordnance, and sexual violence. Paragraph. For the effects of this Title it will also be considered boys, girls, and teenagers conceived as a consequence of sexual violence in relation to the internal armed conflict. In that final paragraph, children born of war were acknowledged in the Victims’ Law. Their inclusion was different, however, to the inclusion of other categories of war-affected children like orphans, victims of landmines and victims of recruitment. Children born as a consequence of wartime sexual violence were not defined in an independent article but just added without any development of the category itself or the way they were going to be addressed. As for the other categories of war-affected children, their early addition to the document of the law, together with already active advocates of their situation and existing discussions about their plight and best interests, allowed for a more comprehensive inclusion in the final document of the Victims’ Law. Articles intended to address those war-affected children sought to cover the particularities of the experience of each category, providing normative definitions of harms and showing understanding of aspects like the entity that should address their situation and technical guidelines to do so. In the case of orphans, for instance, the law states that any national, regional or local authority that receives information about children who lost one or both parents due to the armed conflict has the obligation to immediately inform the Colombian Family Welfare Institute so that they can initiate the process of reparation (Article 188). The almost total absence in the public realm in Colombia of discussion about children born as a result of wartime sexual violence, together with a lack of social movements representing their interests and fostering political negotiations on their positionality, has prevented the configuration of an explanatory framing of their specific experience of violence, and of their role in the imagined future of the society. There is circulation of information about them, but that information has not configured a meaningful category on its own. This lack of conceptualization within the framework for understanding the experience of war-affected children, together with the production of a static, stigmatized identity, has prevented broader discussions on how the wartime gender-based violence that conceived them combines with other forms of structural violence fuelled by capital and patriarchy to shape the life and possibilities of these subjects as they grow older. In this sense, these individuals – as independent and dynamic subjects – remain unintelligible to the reality of the armed conflict that is seized by the human rights discourse and the discourse of transitional justice. Instead, the presence of children born of war in the social reality of communities and wartime sexual violence survivors has been incorporated in official and public discourses through the more familiar language of gender-based violence. Rather than emerging as subjects within the framing of explanations to conceptualize children affected by war, children born of war have been linked to a discourse that aims to understand and address sexual violence in the context of the armed conflict. Maria Baaz and Maria Stern claim that the frames of explanation we use to think about, analyze and write about wartime sexual violence produce specific subjects, silence others and shape the way we attend to those subjects. This has predominantly happened within the dominant discourse of sexual violence as a weapon of war that has sought to challenge the idea that rape responds to the biological – heterosexual – urge of male bodies over female bodies, and instead has proposed focusing attention on the production of notions of femininity and masculinity through which men are depicted as heterosexual, masculine citizen-soldiers, and women ‘are stereotypically associated with a need for protection, with peacefulness and life-giving.’40 Although the topic of children born of war in Colombia has not gained a place in any human rights agendas, the discourse of gender-based violence in the context of the armed conflict, and of sexual violence as a weapon of war, has started to render these children visible within the public realm beyond their communities. Within the legal normative system, the existence of these children is defined by sexual violence conceptualized as a harm against women and girls, and their existence is irrefutable evidence of that harm. Beyond the normative framework, children’s experiences cannot be understood outside their mother’s experiences of violence; it is sexual abuse and notions of reproduction and parenthood that first shape the child’s identity and interaction with his or her mother and community. In Mantilla’s words: The issue of sexual violence has the complexity of the new born human being. Because a forced disappearance of a loved one is terrible, but that human rights violation takes human beings away from you; it disappears someone or kills someone. Sexual violence, instead of removing human beings, adds human beings. It is very complex. And if it adds to you a human being that you didn’t plan, and you end up loving him, and you want to raise him, it creates a series of doubts, especially for women. Women put their body in two ways, first through the sexual abuse and second through motherhood.41 Within the explanatory framework of sexual violence as a weapon of war, the subjects of ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ are reinforced by the emergence of the subject of ‘children born of war,’ whose inclusion in the public discourse reproduces – and also depicts – notions of gender, sexuality, reproduction and parenthood.42 The relations between wartime sexual violence survivors and their children born as a result of the abuse emerge as a tension between two different but inextricably connected topics: the naturalization of gender-based violence – not just in the context of war – and the best interest of the child. When asked about the purpose of defining the category of children born of war based on the circumstances of their conception, rather than on their positionality as war-affected children whose mothers are sexual violence survivors, Mantilla highlighted that this category of war-affected children represents an intersection between debates on the best interest of the child and debates on the sexual and reproductive rights of women. Imagine that you are a woman who has children, you are raped, and have a child as a result of rape. The first child is part of your decision of being a mother, of having a child. That makes part of your own life project. The second child is completely unexpected, something you did not plan. That is the first difference. It is not a difference that aims to stigmatise, but that seeks to highlight that not all maternities are wanted. It is not just about assuming that there is no issue because the woman might raise all of the children. No, here the issue is that the woman did not want to be a mother or that she did not want to have any more children, and that maternity is imposed on her. On the other hand, it is also important to highlight that there are a number of children born as a result of wartime sexual violence – some of them stayed with their mothers and so many others didn’t, and no one knows anything about their plight. They have been abandoned and neglected. Naming them renders them visible, and that is related to the possibility of addressing their situation, and also to the responsibility of the state to assume their obligation towards them.43 The conceptions of gender, sexuality, reproduction and identity that a society holds shape the occurrence of wartime sexual violence as well as the practices through which it manifests. Those entrenched social systems translate into normative regulation over birth rates and mortality, over sexuality and reproduction, and impose roles and expectations on women and men, at the same time as granting them membership and positionalities within the political community. In the context of war-torn societies, this implies negotiations about imagined futures for the society in which women’s bodies, with their reproductive capability, are the targets of control as they become a symbol of national reconstruction according to specific political and social orders.44 Article 181 of the Victims’ Law states that ‘boys, girls, and teenagers concebidos [conceived] as a consequence of sexual violence in relation to the armed conflict’ are considered victims. I highlight ‘conceived’ because despite the fact that this paragraph is contained in the section about war-affected children, the wording of the category frames it within debates on women’s sexual and reproductive rights. To understand this objectification into the social reality of the normative system, the definition and inclusion of the category needs to be placed within the broader moral and political system that seeks to control and restrict women’s bodies and reproductive rights. In 2006, the Colombian Constitutional Court decriminalized abortion under three circumstances: when the pregnancy constitutes a danger to the life or health of the pregnant woman; when there are serious malformations that make the foetus nonviable; and when the pregnancy is the result of sexual violence, incest, artificial insemination or embryo transfer without consent.45 The implementation of the ruling has faced several obstacles that have restricted women’s access to their right to abortion. According to a report issued in 2011 by the Guttmacher Institute, in Colombia there are ‘an estimated 400,400 induced abortions each year,’ and as of 2008, just 322 of those took place within the context of the C355 sentence.46 Women seeking access to legal abortions, particularly in poor and rural areas of the country, are likely to face cultural, economic, institutional and bureaucratic barriers that continue to endanger their health and lives.47 The armed conflict exacerbates violence against women and radicalizes the conditions that represent obstacles in terms of their autonomy over their sexuality and reproduction. According to Margarita Martínez Osorio and colleagues, in the case of Colombia two elements need to be considered when addressing the intersection between access to legal abortions and the impact of the armed conflict upon women. First, the overlapping existence of the armed conflict and the negligence of the state in rural regions translate into very limited access to basic health services for the population, and a very limited supply of gender-sensitive specialized services for women. Secondly, armed groups have reproduced, imposed and consolidated social orders in the regions, with specific conditions for the bodies and lives of women.48 In that context of terror, gender-based violence has assumed different shapes that are not limited to sexual violence and that have regulated women’s behaviours and autonomy according to patriarchal notions of gender, identity and reproduction that are often mediated by class and ethnicity.49 Stigma, fear, silence, discrimination and instability have also played a part in preventing women from accessing legal and medical procedures in relation to sexual violence and unwanted pregnancies.50 Within this context of gender-based violence against women and girls and debates on sexual and reproductive rights, and while the Victims’ Law was under debate in the Congress, in 2011 the Colombian Conservative Party – supported by some sectors of the church and Opus Dei members within the government – led an initiative to dispute the Constitutional Court’s C355 ruling and to return to the complete penalization of abortion in the country.51 Although this initiative was unsuccessful,52 it highlights debates about and tensions between notions of gender, sexuality, reproduction and identity. Colombia’s normative definition of the category of children born of war, and therefore their configuration as subjects within the intelligible reality of the armed conflict in which the transitional justice discourse operates, represents a battlefield between patriarchal structures of violence against women, struggles to subvert them and attempts to come to terms with women’s and children’s experiences of the armed conflict. The wording of the category as children concebidos of wartime sexual violence in the Victim’s Law illustrates how the framing for understanding the plight of children born of war is not one of war-affected children but one that continues to understand women’s bodies as objects of reproduction that need to be regulated and controlled by the state. When asked about the terminology used in the Victims’ Law, Mantilla, who has raised awareness about this tension from the moment the law was published, noted: Our proposal was ‘children born as a result of sexual violence’, and those were the terms we used throughout our interventions. However, when the law was approved they changed nacido [born] for concebido [conceived]. That modification happened unnoticed and no one called attention about it.53 Mantilla points at two aspects that jeopardize women’s sexual and reproductive rights. First, sexual violence survivors could increasingly be refused abortions – refusals are already high in the country – on the basis that under the Victims’ Law the foetus is also considered a victim and is therefore entitled to redress. Secondly, considering that women face high levels of discouragement when they attempt to access their right to legal abortions, there is a possibility that the argument of receiving ‘double reparation’ will be used to try to convince them to give birth to the unwanted children. In practice, the implementation of measures of redress for children born of war has not been affected by such conceptual debates. In that sense, Mantilla stated that she has asked people working in the Unidad para las Víctimas about the consequences of the wording of the category and, to date, it has not been an obstacle regarding the rights of women or children. Mantilla notes: ‘So far the argument of the concebido has not been used to interfere with legal abortions or with reparations, or at least those situations have not been documented.’54 However, the fact that the argument about the concebido has not been used in relation to legal abortions or access to reparations says less about achievements in the context of women’s sexual and reproductive rights, and more about the absence of public debates and negotiations seeking to understand the plight, needs and roles of children born of war. CONCLUSION The category of children born as a result of wartime sexual violence is part of the Colombian normative framework that seeks to understand and address the consequences of the armed conflict, yet its inclusion within the Victims’ Law can be understood as the shell of a subject that still remains to be filled with social meaning in order to be intelligible within the realities in which transitional justice operates. To date, the configuration of these children as subjects in relation to the armed conflict has taken place within framings for understanding wartime sexual violence and, as such, they have been represented in relation to their mothers and their fathers. The lack of conceptualization and public political debate about these children, as well as the way in which they have been granted roles in relation to their parents, have prevented their configuration as independent subjects within the political community, and as individuals entitled to specific rights due to their experiences of violence. Instead, they have emerged as subjects within the social negotiations around victims of wartime sexual violence – for instance, gender and forced maternity – or around perpetrators and their never-ending presence in the history of the communities, for example, through naming practices like paraquitos. In the social reality in which the architecture of transitional justice operates, understanding and addressing the plight of women and men born of war represents the challenge of seeing beyond a political economy of victimhood and the moral system of the political community that frames the everyday life of sexual violence survivors and their sons and daughters, as independent subjects. To understand their plight and role, transitional justice frameworks must assume an interdisciplinary and intersectional lens and contest the normative approach to harm, as these women and men were conceived by war but are not defined by it. Silence about their situation transcends stigma and fear, and in the case of Colombia, the label of paraquitos represents only a snapshot of their experience. Although their lives start as war-affected children, as they grow older their identities and opportunities are under constant negotiation and embody different forms of violence and resistance that do not correspond with static notions of victimhood. Unintelligibility, in their case, is the result of overlapping violences: the violence of war, the violence entrenched in the patriarchal moral system and the structural violence of capital. In the case of women and men born of war, redress requires subverting the social order, otherwise transitional justice mechanisms merely accommodate the dominant economic, social and political values of society. Footnotes 1 Oxfam, ‘Primera encuesta de prevalencia. Violencia sexual en contra de las mujeres en el contexto del conflicto armado colombiano 2001–2009’ (2011), 11. 2 ‘Unidad para las Víctimas, ‘Registro Único de Víctimas,’ http://rni.unidadvictimas.gov.co/RUV (accessed 17 October 2017). 3 Personal interview, Diana Tamayo, coordinator of the Gender and Diversity Approach Team, Bogota, Colombia, 10 June 2016. 4 In the Colombian conflict, paramilitaries, guerrillas and governmental forces have committed sexual violence against women, girls, men and boys as strategies of terror to control the population and secure access to land and natural resources, and to gain control of strategic paths for the transport of drugs and weapons. In this context, the realities of the armed conflict in Colombia include generations of children born as a result of sexual violence, fathered by members of all armed groups. However, it is only in the case of children fathered by paramilitaries that I have found this collective subject, represented in naming practices and the label of los paraquitos. I do not intend to suggest that all children born as a result of wartime sexual violence experience similar processes as those fathered by paramilitary sexual violence, but to focus on how the label of los paraquitos has contributed to the configuration of a restricted understanding of these children’s experiences within human rights and transitional justice settings. 5 Julie Mertus, ‘Key Ethical Inquiries for Future Research,’ in Born of War: Protecting Children of Sexual Violence Survivors in Conflict Zones, ed. R. Charli Carpenter (Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, 2007). 6 See, e.g., R. Charli Carpenter, Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010); Ingvill C. Mochmann and Sabine Lee, ‘The Human Rights of Children Born of War: Case Analyses of Past and Present Conflicts,’ Historical Social Research 35(3) (2010): 268–298; Kimberly Theidon, ‘Hidden in Plain Sight: Children Born of Wartime Sexual Violence,’ Current Anthropology 56(S12) (2015): S191–S200. 7 Charli Carpenter, ‘Gender, Ethnicity and Children’s Human Rights: Theorizing Babies Born of Wartime Rape and Sexual Exploitation,’ in Born of War: Protecting Children of Sexual Violence Survivors in Conflict Zones, ed. R. Charli Carpenter (Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, 2007), 3. 8 UN News Centre, ‘Eradicating Sexual Violence in Colombia Requires Investment in Communities – UN Envoy,’ 4 March 2015, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=50246#.WUAaKdwo_cs (accessed 17 October 2017). 9 Personal interview, Rocío Mojica, Bogota, Colombia, 7 March 2016. 10 Kai Grieg, The War Children of the World (Bergen: War and Children Identity Project, 2001); R. Charli Carpenter, ‘Setting the Advocacy Agenda: Theorizing Issue Emergence and Nonemergence in Transnational Advocacy Networks,’ International Studies Quarterly 51(1) (2007): 99–120; Donna Seto, No Place for a War Baby: The Global Politics of Children Born of Wartime Sexual Violence (New York: Routledge, 2016). 11 Patricia Weitsman, ‘Children Born of War and the Politics of Identity,’ in Born of War: Protecting Children of Sexual Violence Survivors in Conflict Zones, ed. R. Charli Carpenter (Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, 2007). 12 Grieg, supra n 10. 13 Carpenter, supra n 6 at 52. 14 Mertus, supra n 5. 15 Carpenter, supra n 6. 16 Karmen Erjavec and Zala Volčič, ‘Living with the Sins of Their Fathers: An Analysis of Self-Representation of Adolescents Born of War Rape,’ Journal of Adolescent Research 25(3) (2010): 359–386. 17 Carpenter, supra n 7. 18 Pablo de Greiff, ‘Theorizing Transitional Justice,’ in Transitional Justice: NOMOS LI, ed. Melissa S. Williams, Rosemary Nagy and Jon Elster (New York: New York University Press, 2012), 44. 19 Damien Short, Reconciliation and Colonial Power: Indigenous Rights in Australia (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008). 20 Alejandro Castillejo Cuellar, Los archivos del dolor: ensayos sobre la violencia y el recuerdo en la Sudáfrica contemporánea (Bogotá: Ediciones Uniandes, 2009). 21 Claire Moon, ‘Narrating Political Reconciliation: Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa,’ Social and Legal Studies 15(2) (2006): 261. 22 De Greiff, supra n 18. 23 Moon, supra n 21. 24 Personal interview, Esther Ruíz, Bogota, Colombia, 7 March 2016. 25 Personal interview, María Eugenia Morales, Bogota, Colombia, 10 June 2016. 26 John Alexander Giraldo Lizcano and Ana María Jiménez Pava, Garantías y oportunidades para la defensa de la vida (Bogota: Benposta, 2015). 27 Personal conversation, Ruth, Buenos Aires, Colombia, 1 February 2016. 28 Personal conversation, Astrid, Buenos Aires, Colombia, 23 March 2015. 29 In the case of my fieldwork, the community no longer refers to children born as a result of paramilitary sexual violence as paraquitos. However, they are understood to be aggressive and violent members of the group because, according to local logics and values, their mothers have failed to raise them properly. Given the scope of this article, I do not develop this argument here. 30 Personal interview, Ana María Jiménez, Bogota, Colombia, 13 April 2016. 31 Ibid. 32 Lizcano and Pava, supra n 26 at 30. 33 Ibid. 34 Jan van Dijk, ‘Free the Victim: A Critique of the Western Conception of Victimhood,’ International Review of Victimology 16(1) (2009): 1–33. 35 Mark Neocleous, ‘Resisting Resilience,’ Radical Philosophy 178(6) (2013): 7. 36 Mantilla is referring to Theidon, supra n 6. 37 Personal interview, Julissa Mantilla, Skype, 19 February 2016. 38 Congress of the Republic of Colombia, Gazette 692/10. 39 Congress of the Republic of Colombia, Gazette 63/11: 44–45. 40 Maria Eriksson Baaz and Maria Stern, Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War?: Perceptions, Prescriptions, Problems in the Congo and beyond (London: Zed Books, 2013), 20. 41 Personal interview, Julissa Mantilla, Skype, 19 February 2016. 42 Weitsman, supra n 11. 43 Personal interview, Julissa Mantilla, Skype, 19 February 2016. 44 Veena Das, ‘The Citizen as Sexed: Women, Violence, and Reproduction,’ in Women and the Contested State: Religion, Violence, and Agency in South and Southeast Asia, ed. M. Skidmore and P. Lawrence (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007). 45 Colombian Constitutional Court Sentence C355 of 2006 (Jaime Araujo Rentería and Clara Inés Vargas Hernández). 46 Elena Prada, Susheela Singh, Lisa Remez and Cristina Villarreal, Unintended Pregnancy and Induced Abortion in Colombia: Causes and Consequences (New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2011), 6. 47 Ibid. 48 Margarita Martínez Osorio, Annika Dalén, Diana Esther Guzmán and Nina Chaparro González, ‘El ejercicio de la interrupción voluntaria del embarazo en el marco del conflicto armado,’ Documento Dejusticia 25, 2015, https://www.dejusticia.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/fi_name_recurso_796.pdf (accessed 18 October 2017). 49 Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica, ¡Basta ya! Colombia: memorias de Guerra y dignidad (Bogota: Imprenta nacional, 2013). 50 Diana Esther Guzmán Rodríguez and Sylvia Cristina Prieto Dávila, ‘Acceso a la justicia: Mujeres, conflicto armado y justicia,’ Documento Dejusticia 10, 2013, https://www.dejusticia.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/fi_name_recurso_364.pdf (accessed 18 October 2017). 51 El Espectador, ‘Conservadores exigen priorizar discusión despenalización del aborto,’ 21 September 2011, http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/politica/conservadores-exigen-priorizar-discusion-de-penalizacio-articulo-300915 (accessed 18 October 2017). 52 El Espectador, ‘No cesa lucha conservadora por abolir aborto en Colombia,’ 5 December 2011, http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/politica/no-cesa-lucha-conservadora-abolir-aborto-colombia-articulo-315090 (accessed 18 October 2017). 53 Personal interview, Julissa Mantilla, Skype, 19 February 2016. 54 Ibid. © The Author (2017). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email journals.permissions@oup.com http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png International Journal of Transitional Justice Oxford University Press

The Hollow Shell: Children Born of War and the Realities of the Armed Conflict in Colombia

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Abstract

Abstract∞ This article discusses tensions and dynamics around configuring children born as a result of wartime sexual violence as subjects within the realities in which transitional justice operates. Based on ethnographic research in Colombia, the article explores how a victimhood discourse and an explanatory framing to understand gender-based violence and sexual violence as a weapon of war, have restricted the emergence of these children as independent war-affected subjects. Instead, they have emerged as subjects that play a part in the social negotiations around victims of wartime sexual violence – for instance, gender and forced maternity – or around perpetrators and their constant presence in the history of the communities. To understand the plight and role of these subjects within the political community, transitional justice frameworks must contest the normative approach to harm, as these women and men were conceived by war but are not defined by it. INTRODUCTION In more than half a century of armed conflict in Colombia, but particularly during the last 20 years, unknown but significant numbers of children have been born as a consequence of sexual violence committed against girls and women by members of armed groups such as paramilitaries, guerrillas and government forces. According to one estimate, between 2001 and 2009 more than 489,687 women and girls were victims of at least one form of sexual violence in the context of the conflict.1 And according to the records of the Unidad para las Víctimas, the governmental agency in charge of articulating measures of redress, 19,684 people have been recorded as victims in relation to ‘harms against their freedom and sexual integrity.’2 Considering that pregnancies are a possible outcome of sexual violence, one would expect a significant presence of children born as a consequence of those abuses in the country, yet the official records present a number of only 533.3 I do not introduce these figures to discuss problems of underreporting and how official and quasi-official figures may not represent the reality of the sexual violence committed against women, and the children born of that violence. Instead, I start with those figures because they reflect the tensions and dynamics involved in configuring children born as a result of wartime sexual violence as victims of the armed conflict in Colombia. I propose that this is not a story of silence, because silence requires knowledge and the power of concealment. Rather, the story of the category of children born as a result of wartime sexual violence in Colombia is one of unintelligibility – their physical existence has not been objectivized in the intersubjective reality in which the human rights discourse and the technologies of political transition operate. Worldwide, children born of war have not emerged as independent subjects of concern and redress among the categories of war-affected children. In the case of Colombia, however, these children were included as official victims of the armed conflict in the 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law. Nevertheless, they have not been prioritized by human rights organizations or by the institutions implementing transitional justice mechanisms in Colombia. In this sense, these children have not gained a place in any of the victims’ agendas and have instead fallen into a grey area between networks working with war-affected children like child combatants, and networks working on gender-based violence in the context of the armed conflict. The realities of wartime sexual violence in Colombia are evidence that these children’s physical presence in the country cannot be underestimated. They appear in the testimonies of wartime sexual violence survivors and have been officially categorized and named by the Colombian state as victims, yet children born of war remain socially invisible to the institutions and agencies that seek to address the consequences of the armed conflict. In this article, I explore some of the social processes through which children born of war in Colombia have become part of the realities of the armed conflict that are officially addressed and institutionalized. The fact that these children are recognized as victims under Colombian legislation could be seen as an attempt to break the silence imposed on wartime sexual violence survivors and their sons and daughters through impunity, state negligence and fear. In this context, I argue, the lack of attention the plight of these children has received by the media, scholars, government agencies and human rights organizations reflects not so much a desire to hide a topic but an inability to see it. The official category of children born of war was created and yet these children are not part of the reality of war that is subjectively meaningful for those public and political actors. Nevertheless, the physical existence of these children in war-torn communities and their mention in the testimonies of sexual violence survivors represent a tension in this argument. How can these children be unintelligible when we know they are part of the realities of the Colombian armed conflict? I argue that political and public discourses have incorporated into their operational reality information about children born of war through processes that have prevented the emergence of those children as independent subjects of concern and action. Information about these children has indeed circulated. The processes through which it has circulated, however, have restricted their configuration as independent subjects within the explanatory framings for apprehending the experiences of war. This article follows two trajectories. In the first two sections, I address how the collective phenomenon of children born of war has appeared in the imaginary of human rights organizations and transitional justice agencies in Colombia through stories about how these children are being stigmatized in their communities. This static notion of victimhood is represented in the label of paraquito4 (little paramilitary), which has restricted the understanding of the dynamic experience of these children as war-affected people, while denying that they are not solely defined by the violence that conceived them and that their identity transforms as they grow older. I then address how children born of war have not emerged as subjects within the explanatory framings for understanding the experience of war-affected children. Instead, they have emerged as subjects within the framings for understanding wartime sexual violence, playing a role in reinforcing social representations of their mothers – as victimized subjects – and their biological fathers – as the incarnation of evil. This article is part of a larger ethnographic study on narratives about children born of war in Colombia. Most of the fieldwork took place between December 2015 and June 2016 in the municipality of Buenos Aires, located in the southwestern department of Cauca, particularly in the community of San Miguel, which is undergoing a process of collective reparation. In that community, paramilitaries established the military base from where they operated to the north of Cauca from 2000 and after their demobilization in 2004. Sexual violence was systematically committed against women and girls and, as a result of those abuses, children were born. My data collection was organized through participant observation in Buenos Aires, social cartography sessions with women and men from the community, in-depth semi-structured interviews with members of the community, as well as with scholars and representatives of the Colombian government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working with gender-based violence in the context of the armed conflict and war-affected children. Further, I conducted ethnographic content analysis of online media and legal documents under Colombian legislation. Considering the exploratory nature of the research and with the best interests of the children in mind, I did not interview any children but instead focused on the narratives, logics and dynamics produced around children born of war. Although in Colombia there has not been any research done on the plight of these individuals, studies from other contexts show that they are often stigmatized and that their human rights are compromised in a number of ways due to the circumstances of their conception.5 With this in mind, seeking to involve these children in the research under the criterion of ‘being born of sexual violence’ could have singled them out, reinforced stigmatization and put them at further risk. I acknowledge the limitations that not having talked to children impose on my research and the importance of recognizing their experience and agency. However, I made this theoretical and methodological decision based on an ethical assessment of the historical, political and social context in which my research is embedded, and a commitment to long-term processes that recognize community dynamics and times. For the purposes of this article, I focus my analysis on the revision of the 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law and on interactions and interviews with local leaders, human rights advocates and representatives of NGOs and government agencies whose positionality within the architectures of transitional justice places them within networks working with war-affected children or with gender-based violence in the context of the armed conflict. Whilst the article focuses on Colombia, I contribute to broader conversations within the growing field of interdisciplinary studies on children born of war,6 understanding that category as ‘persons of any age conceived as a result of violent, coercive, or exploitative sexual relations in conflict zones.’7 This article also contributes to broader discussions on victimhood and gender-based violence against women and girls in the context of war, and the ways through which transitional justice mechanisms can also create silenced and marginal subjects while reproducing structural forms of oppression. LIVING IN THE SHADOWS: HUMAN RIGHTS, TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE AND CHILDREN BORN OF WAR In a ground-breaking decision, the Colombian Victims’ and Land Restitution Law included children born of war in the definition of the category of victims of the armed conflict. Through this legislation, the state of Colombia acknowledges that due to the circumstances of the conception of these children, they experience specific harms and types of violence and as a result are entitled to redress. Although there is this official recognition, and human rights advocates working with women’s and children’s organizations further highlight the importance of focusing efforts on understanding the situation of children born of war, there are no official programmes addressing their plight or NGOs working to raise awareness of their situation. In a 2015 visit to the country, Zainab Hawa Bangura, former UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict, manifested her extreme concern about what she called ‘the silent issue of children born out of rape.’8 That same concern seemed to be a constant throughout the several meetings and interactions I had with members of the government and human rights activists. In an interview with representatives of Unicef (UN Children’s Fund) Colombia, and while talking about the different challenges in terms of providing mental health and psychosocial attention to the victims of the conflict, Child Protection Officer Rocío Mojica mentioned that among all the issues still lacking attention, ‘the topic of children born of war seemed to be the most hidden one.’9 In a broader context, the lack of attention to the situation of these children is by no means unique to Colombia. Indeed, they have remained unattended by the international community and official global human rights discourses.10 Although there are groups raising awareness of the situation of these children and developing academic research – such as the War and Children Identity Project in Norway and the International Network for Interdisciplinary Research on Children Born of War – the children have not gained a place within the official umbrella of children’s rights or in the agendas of transitional justice processes. In fact, when the subject appears, it usually does so in the language of gender-based violence, specifically in relation to sexual violence and women’s rights.11 In relation to war-affected children in general, since the early 1990s different transnational networks have raised awareness about the impact of war upon children and have succeeded in placing the issue on the international human rights agenda.12 The emergence of categories such as ‘child combatant’ and ‘refugee children’ is understood within the human rights discourse as an achievement in the struggle to protect children from the impact of violent conflict and oppression. Nevertheless, the human rights agenda does not cover the whole reality of war and it is not neutral and apolitical. In the case of children born of war, Charli Carpenter notes that there is something that has ‘convinced activists at many locations in the child rights network that the political and normative risks of advocacy outweighed the possible benefits.’13 One perspective within the global advocacy network is that raising awareness about the plight of these children might put them at further risk.14 The argument is that by creating this specific category of concern, children could be singled out and the risk of stigmatization and discrimination could increase, together with a concern that in many cases children might not know the context of their conception. Although these are legitimate concerns, Carpenter argues that they do not explain why this issue has been neglected.15 However, this perspective is not prevalent within the child protection networks and a counterargument claims that if the category is not clearly established and discussed, it is impossible to design public policy and programmes to accurately address these children’s needs. Further, although it is true that in many cases children do not know the circumstances of their conception during the first stages of their life, it has been identified that this reality is often impressed on them through practices of discrimination and labelling within the community.16 Finally, the risk of increasing stigmatization also applies to other populations that have gained a prioritized place within the human rights advocacy networks, like children affected by HIV and AIDS or child soldiers.17 The inclusion of these children in the Colombian victims’ legislation implies that they are recognized as victims and, most importantly, as bearers of rights within the political community of the nation-state. According to Pablo de Greiff, UN special rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of nonrecurrence, state recognition of victims is a normative-based conception of recognition, ‘since recognising victims as right-bearers involves recognising the norms that establish a regime of citizenship.’18 Questions about the construction of the human rights agenda and policies of political transitions, and why some topics are included whereas others are not, are deeply related to sociopolitical negotiations about reconciliation as a vehicle for social stability.19 Within those negotiations the categories of ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ are not factual and apolitical notions, but the outcome of debates on what past societies are going to acknowledge, who is going to be part of the political community and what future is going to be constructed.20 In that sense, at the core of those negotiations is a ratification of the political community and its norms, and a question about who belongs to it and which roles those individuals are being granted. When discussing notions and definitions of ‘victims’ and ‘perpetrators,’ one needs to bear in mind that ‘under different political circumstances these subject positions would have been occupied by different individuals.’21 Within the regime of citizenship, recognizing someone as a victim is given in terms of normative notions, as it is not suffering but notions of harm that are acknowledged.22 This normative approach to people’s pain creates legal categories which aim to account for people’s experiences of violence. That implies that the focus is not on the extensive and complex ways in which violence shapes people’s lives, but on legally defined understandings of suffering. Thus, categories of ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ restrict people’s experiences of violence and suffering, legitimizing some experiences over others.23 In the case of Colombia, the inclusion of children born of war in the definition of victims in the Victims’ and Land Restitution Law represents a landmark in the jurisdiction to address the plight of war-affected children. It acknowledges their existence as subjects that emerge from war but that have a place and role in the present of the political community. However, unlike other categories of victims that were also included in the definition, such as forced disappearances or child combatants, this inclusion was not the result of a political negotiation around children born of war as war-affected children. Rather, it was the result of decades of women’s struggles to make visible the existence of gender-based violence and the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. Although including these generations of children in the legislation opens the door for opportunities in terms of truth, reparations, reconciliation and accountability, the fact that they have not been part of the social and political negotiation around the consequences of the armed conflict and how to address them implies that the category is empty of social meaning. There is an absence of explanatory frameworks to understand the effects of the armed conflict on these individuals, the possibilities for redress and their role in the project of the society’s future. Although the existence of children born of war in Colombia has been made visible, women’s organizations and organizations working with war-affected children have not included them in their agendas. The former has focused efforts on gender-based violence and the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, and the latter has built networks and infrastructure around child recruitment. This scenario has translated into an idea that the situation of children born of war is an essential topic to address, and of paramount importance for their future, their mothers and the future of their communities, together with an almost complete absence of debate and of official and private programmes and strategies working with them. In a conversation with Unicef Colombia, Child Protection Officer Esther Ruíz addressed the lack of initiatives and actions towards children born of war: We’ve been trying to propose a project for over a year now but it’s proven to be very difficult. Our idea was to assess at a national level the extent of the presence of children born of war. Of course without stigmatizing them but acknowledging that the first problem we need to solve is the institutional invisibility of these children. And we don’t want to expose them, but we do need to understand the kind of expert attention those children require. We know there are cases in different regions, but there is no clarity at all about their situation, if there are more cases in some specific regions than in others, or if they are mainly fathered by paramilitaries. We believe that to start thinking about this will contribute to the work of the Truth Commission in the future, because otherwise this topic will remain hidden and won’t be part of the truth the country aims to reconstruct. Also because we don’t know if those children are receiving the reparations they are entitled to.24 Despite the lack of information about children born of war and the absence of social movements leading a struggle that represents them, these children were included in the Victims’ Law as victims of the Colombian armed conflict. However, this official acknowledgement has not been enough to place them as a category of concern and action within the human rights agenda. María Eugenia Morales, former director of reparations of the Unidad para las Víctimas, described the fact that these children are now recognized as victims as a great achievement. However, when asked about the lack of attention that remains around the topic, she said: The inclusion of these children in the definition of the category of victims happened at the very last moment of the debates. That was not part of the previous discussions and was not foreseen. It was the representative of UN women [Julissa Mantilla], who had been also part of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who pushed the topic onto the agenda. She insisted and insisted. It was in the very last minute. Before that the topic was completely invisible. I would say that in part that explains why the topic has had so little diffusion.25 Debates about war-affected children in Colombia have focused mainly on displacement and child recruitment,26 a focus illustrated in academic debates, NGO reports and inclusion in the legal framework of the country. Among all the categories of war-affected children, child recruitment has gained a privileged place in the social maps of the human rights networks when thinking about relations between childhood and armed conflict. In my fieldwork interactions with activists, scholars and public policy makers working with human rights-related topics, people often assumed that I was researching child recruitment – even after I had presented the research project and directly asked about children born of war. On many occasions, I found myself trying to lead the conversations out of the framework of recruitment and use of children, and interviewees often reminded themselves as they were speaking that ‘that’ was not the main topic of conversation. ON STATIC IDENTITIES AND CROPPED EXPERIENCES My first encounter with Ruth happened in her family house. We had talked over the phone several times but poor telephone signal had prevented us from having any conversation that lasted longer than a couple of minutes. The day before our meeting she gave me the indications I needed to make the four-hour journey from Cali to her house in one of the rural veredas of Buenos Aires. I had read the name of the organization Ruth represents in a magazine article that led me to the location of Buenos Aires, and the very few mentions I had found of the situation of children born of war in that region often included mentions of this victims’ organization. Ruth explained how she engaged with the stories of children born of war. Her organization was working on a project with a women’s national NGO and she was the link between the NGO and sexual violence survivors in the community of San Miguel. One day, while sitting in front of the school in San Miguel – the same school that functioned as a storage and training base for paramilitaries for over five years – and talking with one of the women from that community, a boy came out of the school crying and sat close to them. Ruth tried to console him. When she asked what was wrong, the boy told her that the other children kept calling him paraquito and that he did not want to go back to school. ‘It’s very sad,’ Ruth said, ‘that situation of los paraquitos it’s very sad.’27 That was also the first time that I heard a reference that I would encounter over and over in different situations and locations: las mujeres de San Miguel (the women of San Miguel). That category was used by locals and human rights activists to configure a rigid and oppressive imaginary of a homogeneous collective of raped women. As I found out later during fieldwork, there was a very tense relationship between Ruth’s organization and local leaders from San Miguel. La junta de acción comunal (the communal action board) did not feel that Ruth’s organization represented the interests of the community and claimed that its members had tried to use the experience of San Miguel to somehow find profit within the bureaucracies of transitional justice and reparations to victims. Among the different controversial topics, the one of las mujeres de San Miguel was passionately presented to me by Astrid, one of the leaders of San Miguel. She told me how at some point she thought that joining Ruth’s organization would be a good idea: When they presented the idea of creating an organization that would bring together victims from the different rural areas of Buenos Aires it sounded like a good strategy to negotiate with the government. It’s always better to be organized…[However,] it did not work because in the very first meeting they started telling lies about us. The meeting was in another vereda. I think they didn’t know there were people from San Miguel in the meeting, because one of them said in front of everybody that we had to organize ourselves to make the government compensate us for cases like las mujeres de San Miguel; that because they had all been raped their husbands had been forced to leave.28 Over time, I also became more familiar with the geographies of Buenos Aires; the landscape has played an essential part in framing different experiences of the armed conflict. Displacement, confinement and massacres are part of the history of violence of Buenos Aires, but the dynamics of the armed conflict have imposed different forms of oppression on different communities. People from the valleys and on strategic paths for the trafficking of drugs and weapons, like Ruth, were among the first groups of mass displacement in that region. The mountain where San Miguel is located – together with lack of infrastructure to access the area – provided a good opportunity for surveillance and training, and so became a paramilitary stronghold. People’s experiences of the armed conflict are not only defined by armed groups; they are also shaped by the same policies that aim to address the consequences of violence. In the case of sexual violence survivors in Buenos Aires and their children born of gender-based violence, the architecture of transitional justice – represented in the possibility of implementing collective reparations, individual compensation for victims, and nongovernmental projects with legal psychosocial aids – has contributed to the creation of two cropped identities of war: los paraquitos and las mujeres de San Miguel. Ruth’s organization’s attempts to render visible both experiences have played a part in the process of configuring those subjects. Around 2010, Ruth’s organization was involved in two different projects with two well-known national women’s NGOs. Although not implemented at the same time, both projects sought to address the plight of sexual violence survivors in San Miguel using a legal and psychosocial approach. What they also had in common is that their link with the community was Ruth – although she is not from that community – and that, for safety reasons and with women’s well-being at heart, they did not hold any sessions in San Miguel. Public stories among organizations working with victims about women and children born of war from Buenos Aires come mainly from the time those projects were implemented – approximately five years after the paramilitary demobilization, in a period of economic, social and political movement in the region. Paramilitaries had demobilized but still had a very strong presence in the area. The first paramilitary trials took place – one of them for sexual violence, and there were initial signs of governmental presence – after a long history of state negligence and abandonment, under the umbrella of transitional justice promises. Although the stories come from those years, they are told in present time – individuals who were born as a result of sexual violence are still addressed as children. Their identities are assumed to be defined by stigmatization, and although the way the community understands them has shifted,29 they are still labelled as paraquitos. Both NGOs have tried to continue their projects with the community but funding is scarce and they have prioritized other regions. The dynamism and realities of war, resistance and endurance at the local level are not necessarily in conversation with the economies of the human rights system. Stories told in present time about heterogeneous experiences of sexual violence against women, and children labelled as paraquitos, are snapshots of people’s experiences of war that contribute to the configuration of static notions of victimhood. They represent arrhythmic notes in relation to the realities of the communities, but are embedded with a symbolic power within the human rights discourse. As in the case of Buenos Aires, what is known about children born of war in Colombia comes mainly from women’s organizations that work with gender-based violence in relation to the armed conflict. After the paramilitary demobilization in 2005, some women’s and children’s organizations and agencies working in armed conflict-related areas started hearing stories on the ground about the children of sexual violence survivors being called paraquitos in their communities. The label brought attention to these children, who until then had been invisible in terms of human rights concerns. Ana María Jiménez, a human rights lawyer with expertise in war-affected children, noted: I think it is very pertinent that you are working on this topic. For example, in terms of reconstruction of collective memory and the debates that are yet to come. Because in the case of those children many people have used adjectives…calling them paraquitos has been the most dreadful thing. It was that what really made the topic visible.30 Labelling practices, coupled with the reference to 533 children that I introduced at the beginning of the article, portray a social dilemma about whether these children are understood as war-affected subjects themselves, or whether they are associated with the mother or the father, with the victim or the perpetrator. Within the realities in which the policies of transitional justice operate, the intelligibility of subjects as victims of the armed conflict is also given in relation to familiarity and expectations. The system of values of the political community is projected onto an imaginary of ‘ideal’ victims and perpetrators whose silhouettes are apprehended within the already established social, political and legal order. During my conversation with human rights lawyer Ana María Jimenez about the different obstacles war-affected children face in order to access redress, she told the story of a young man whose biological father was a paramilitary: While I was working on a report about access to reparations for children, we found the testimony of a young man whose access to compensation had been denied because he was fathered by a paramilitary commandant. The discourse behind this is very complex because he was not assumed as a victim but he was associated with the perpetrator.31 The testimony of the young man presented in the report Ana María mentioned says: My mum tells that she wanted to testify and she went to one of the offices of the government, but no one listened to her because she had been the woman of a paramilitary and had a child of his. The person who talked to her said that we were not victims but perpetrators. He said there was nothing to do. I don’t understand that, because we haven’t hurt anyone.32 Although the report does not specify the context of the relationship and the conception of the child, or provide further development on the situation of children born in the context of war, the testimony raises questions about the expectations society has of those subjects named as victims.33 The English and Spanish words for ‘victim’ come from victima, the Latin word for sacrificial animals. Jan van Dijk has tracked this reference of victims as the ‘sacrificed ones’ to an association of the plight of victims with the suffering of Jesus Christ.34 Van Dijk notes that although the term fosters compassion, it also imposes a social role of passivity and unconditional forgiveness. For subjects to become intelligible as victims, their experience of suffering and oppression is filtered through legal categories, and their response to that violence is assessed through the moral system of the political community – ironically, the same political community that allowed their suffering to take place. Stories of endurance and survival are understood as part of the victimhood narrative as long as they are in conversation with the dominant economic, social and political values of society and do not challenge the social order. Following Mark Neocleous’ approach to resilience, the danger of the kind of resilience that is valued within the political economy of victimhood is that it wants compliance, not resistance. This kind of resilience, Neocleous notes, ‘does demand that we use our actions to accommodate ourselves to capital and the state, and the secure future of both.’35 Beyond the legal argument of whether children born of war are entitled to redress, the testimonies presented above illustrate the social negotiations that shape the subject and identity of children born of war through notions of gender, sexuality and reproduction. Depending on how those negotiations take place, children born of war are presented either as subjects in relation to sexual violence survivors, or as subjects in relation to perpetrators of wartime sexual violence. These narratives that aim to make intelligible the armed conflict and its consequences have restricted the emergence of children born of war as independent war-affected subjects, whose life experiences are related to but not completely defined by the experiences of their parents. The collective phenomenon of children born of war has appeared in the imaginary of human rights organizations in Colombia mainly through stories and rumours about these children being labelled in their communities as paraquitos. Human rights organizations tell these stories in present time, without knowing whether the situation has persisted in the communities or the ways it has changed. Through these narratives, a static notion of the identity of these children is produced and reproduced. This snapshot of the story of children born of war creates a very restricted approach to them as war-affected children. It assumes that children are defined only in relation to the violence that conceived them, and fails to understand the dynamism of their development as human beings within their cultural and sociopolitical contexts. SHAPING THE CATEGORY OF CHILDREN BORN OF WAR AND THE DISCOURSE OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE While reviewing the testimonies given by sexual violence survivors from Buenos Aires as part of the legal process of reparations, an aspect that captured my attention was that when women were questioned about the consequences of the sexual abuse, they were asked about pregnancies immediately after being asked about sexually transmitted diseases. When discussing the negative burden implied in the collection of testimonies, Mantilla, who was in charge of the gender team of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission and who played a key role in including the category of children born of war in the Colombian Victims’ Law, said: I believe that in this topic what is missing is a previous debate. The interviewer knows that he has to ask about pregnancies but he doesn’t know why. I mean, he might know that he has to ask in order to know how many children, but there was no previous discussion about why we care about that. Is it because otherwise the feminist will yell? No! Why do we care? Is it because it will contribute to redress, to guarantees of non-repetition, to understand the harm? Just when you understand the purpose of a question you understand where to include it and how to make it…This is why the issue of these children is so fascinating. It challenges everything, and no one has really thought about them. That’s why the issue of ‘the invisible generation’36 is so telling; because they are there, but we don’t see them.37 On 27 September 2010, the initial draft of the Victims’ Law was presented for the first time in the Colombian Congress.38 The initial document of the law addressed the plight of war-affected children (Chapter XIII) and stated their right to truth, justice and integral reparations (Article 107). Although it referred to all child and teenage victims of human rights violations and international human rights law violations, the document highlighted the right to integral reparation of some categories of war-affected children: orphans as a consequence of the armed conflict (Article 114), victims of landmines and unexploded ordnance (Article 115) and victims of recruitment and use by armed groups (Article 116). Although throughout the several debates that defined the final document of the Victims’ Law the inclusion of children born of war was not considered, the advocacy of UN Women in the last moments of discussion ensured the topic’s inclusion in the law. This inclusion was reflected in the document of the Victims’ Law published on 1 March 2011 under the section devoted to war-affected children:39 Title VII. Integral Protection of Boys, Girls, and Teenagers Victims Article 174. Rights of boys, girls, and teenager victims. This law will understand as a boy, girl, and teenager every person under the age of 18. Boys, girls, and teenager victims of Human Rights’ violations and violations of International Human Rights Law will enjoy all of their social, cultural, political, and economic rights, and in addition they will have access to: 1. Truth, Justice, and Integral reparation 2. The restitution of their rights 3. Protection against all forms of violence, damage or physical and mental abuse, ill treatment or exploitation, recruitment, forced displacement, landmines and unexploded ordnance, and sexual violence. Paragraph. For the effects of this Title it will also be considered boys, girls, and teenagers conceived as a consequence of sexual violence in relation to the internal armed conflict. In that final paragraph, children born of war were acknowledged in the Victims’ Law. Their inclusion was different, however, to the inclusion of other categories of war-affected children like orphans, victims of landmines and victims of recruitment. Children born as a consequence of wartime sexual violence were not defined in an independent article but just added without any development of the category itself or the way they were going to be addressed. As for the other categories of war-affected children, their early addition to the document of the law, together with already active advocates of their situation and existing discussions about their plight and best interests, allowed for a more comprehensive inclusion in the final document of the Victims’ Law. Articles intended to address those war-affected children sought to cover the particularities of the experience of each category, providing normative definitions of harms and showing understanding of aspects like the entity that should address their situation and technical guidelines to do so. In the case of orphans, for instance, the law states that any national, regional or local authority that receives information about children who lost one or both parents due to the armed conflict has the obligation to immediately inform the Colombian Family Welfare Institute so that they can initiate the process of reparation (Article 188). The almost total absence in the public realm in Colombia of discussion about children born as a result of wartime sexual violence, together with a lack of social movements representing their interests and fostering political negotiations on their positionality, has prevented the configuration of an explanatory framing of their specific experience of violence, and of their role in the imagined future of the society. There is circulation of information about them, but that information has not configured a meaningful category on its own. This lack of conceptualization within the framework for understanding the experience of war-affected children, together with the production of a static, stigmatized identity, has prevented broader discussions on how the wartime gender-based violence that conceived them combines with other forms of structural violence fuelled by capital and patriarchy to shape the life and possibilities of these subjects as they grow older. In this sense, these individuals – as independent and dynamic subjects – remain unintelligible to the reality of the armed conflict that is seized by the human rights discourse and the discourse of transitional justice. Instead, the presence of children born of war in the social reality of communities and wartime sexual violence survivors has been incorporated in official and public discourses through the more familiar language of gender-based violence. Rather than emerging as subjects within the framing of explanations to conceptualize children affected by war, children born of war have been linked to a discourse that aims to understand and address sexual violence in the context of the armed conflict. Maria Baaz and Maria Stern claim that the frames of explanation we use to think about, analyze and write about wartime sexual violence produce specific subjects, silence others and shape the way we attend to those subjects. This has predominantly happened within the dominant discourse of sexual violence as a weapon of war that has sought to challenge the idea that rape responds to the biological – heterosexual – urge of male bodies over female bodies, and instead has proposed focusing attention on the production of notions of femininity and masculinity through which men are depicted as heterosexual, masculine citizen-soldiers, and women ‘are stereotypically associated with a need for protection, with peacefulness and life-giving.’40 Although the topic of children born of war in Colombia has not gained a place in any human rights agendas, the discourse of gender-based violence in the context of the armed conflict, and of sexual violence as a weapon of war, has started to render these children visible within the public realm beyond their communities. Within the legal normative system, the existence of these children is defined by sexual violence conceptualized as a harm against women and girls, and their existence is irrefutable evidence of that harm. Beyond the normative framework, children’s experiences cannot be understood outside their mother’s experiences of violence; it is sexual abuse and notions of reproduction and parenthood that first shape the child’s identity and interaction with his or her mother and community. In Mantilla’s words: The issue of sexual violence has the complexity of the new born human being. Because a forced disappearance of a loved one is terrible, but that human rights violation takes human beings away from you; it disappears someone or kills someone. Sexual violence, instead of removing human beings, adds human beings. It is very complex. And if it adds to you a human being that you didn’t plan, and you end up loving him, and you want to raise him, it creates a series of doubts, especially for women. Women put their body in two ways, first through the sexual abuse and second through motherhood.41 Within the explanatory framework of sexual violence as a weapon of war, the subjects of ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ are reinforced by the emergence of the subject of ‘children born of war,’ whose inclusion in the public discourse reproduces – and also depicts – notions of gender, sexuality, reproduction and parenthood.42 The relations between wartime sexual violence survivors and their children born as a result of the abuse emerge as a tension between two different but inextricably connected topics: the naturalization of gender-based violence – not just in the context of war – and the best interest of the child. When asked about the purpose of defining the category of children born of war based on the circumstances of their conception, rather than on their positionality as war-affected children whose mothers are sexual violence survivors, Mantilla highlighted that this category of war-affected children represents an intersection between debates on the best interest of the child and debates on the sexual and reproductive rights of women. Imagine that you are a woman who has children, you are raped, and have a child as a result of rape. The first child is part of your decision of being a mother, of having a child. That makes part of your own life project. The second child is completely unexpected, something you did not plan. That is the first difference. It is not a difference that aims to stigmatise, but that seeks to highlight that not all maternities are wanted. It is not just about assuming that there is no issue because the woman might raise all of the children. No, here the issue is that the woman did not want to be a mother or that she did not want to have any more children, and that maternity is imposed on her. On the other hand, it is also important to highlight that there are a number of children born as a result of wartime sexual violence – some of them stayed with their mothers and so many others didn’t, and no one knows anything about their plight. They have been abandoned and neglected. Naming them renders them visible, and that is related to the possibility of addressing their situation, and also to the responsibility of the state to assume their obligation towards them.43 The conceptions of gender, sexuality, reproduction and identity that a society holds shape the occurrence of wartime sexual violence as well as the practices through which it manifests. Those entrenched social systems translate into normative regulation over birth rates and mortality, over sexuality and reproduction, and impose roles and expectations on women and men, at the same time as granting them membership and positionalities within the political community. In the context of war-torn societies, this implies negotiations about imagined futures for the society in which women’s bodies, with their reproductive capability, are the targets of control as they become a symbol of national reconstruction according to specific political and social orders.44 Article 181 of the Victims’ Law states that ‘boys, girls, and teenagers concebidos [conceived] as a consequence of sexual violence in relation to the armed conflict’ are considered victims. I highlight ‘conceived’ because despite the fact that this paragraph is contained in the section about war-affected children, the wording of the category frames it within debates on women’s sexual and reproductive rights. To understand this objectification into the social reality of the normative system, the definition and inclusion of the category needs to be placed within the broader moral and political system that seeks to control and restrict women’s bodies and reproductive rights. In 2006, the Colombian Constitutional Court decriminalized abortion under three circumstances: when the pregnancy constitutes a danger to the life or health of the pregnant woman; when there are serious malformations that make the foetus nonviable; and when the pregnancy is the result of sexual violence, incest, artificial insemination or embryo transfer without consent.45 The implementation of the ruling has faced several obstacles that have restricted women’s access to their right to abortion. According to a report issued in 2011 by the Guttmacher Institute, in Colombia there are ‘an estimated 400,400 induced abortions each year,’ and as of 2008, just 322 of those took place within the context of the C355 sentence.46 Women seeking access to legal abortions, particularly in poor and rural areas of the country, are likely to face cultural, economic, institutional and bureaucratic barriers that continue to endanger their health and lives.47 The armed conflict exacerbates violence against women and radicalizes the conditions that represent obstacles in terms of their autonomy over their sexuality and reproduction. According to Margarita Martínez Osorio and colleagues, in the case of Colombia two elements need to be considered when addressing the intersection between access to legal abortions and the impact of the armed conflict upon women. First, the overlapping existence of the armed conflict and the negligence of the state in rural regions translate into very limited access to basic health services for the population, and a very limited supply of gender-sensitive specialized services for women. Secondly, armed groups have reproduced, imposed and consolidated social orders in the regions, with specific conditions for the bodies and lives of women.48 In that context of terror, gender-based violence has assumed different shapes that are not limited to sexual violence and that have regulated women’s behaviours and autonomy according to patriarchal notions of gender, identity and reproduction that are often mediated by class and ethnicity.49 Stigma, fear, silence, discrimination and instability have also played a part in preventing women from accessing legal and medical procedures in relation to sexual violence and unwanted pregnancies.50 Within this context of gender-based violence against women and girls and debates on sexual and reproductive rights, and while the Victims’ Law was under debate in the Congress, in 2011 the Colombian Conservative Party – supported by some sectors of the church and Opus Dei members within the government – led an initiative to dispute the Constitutional Court’s C355 ruling and to return to the complete penalization of abortion in the country.51 Although this initiative was unsuccessful,52 it highlights debates about and tensions between notions of gender, sexuality, reproduction and identity. Colombia’s normative definition of the category of children born of war, and therefore their configuration as subjects within the intelligible reality of the armed conflict in which the transitional justice discourse operates, represents a battlefield between patriarchal structures of violence against women, struggles to subvert them and attempts to come to terms with women’s and children’s experiences of the armed conflict. The wording of the category as children concebidos of wartime sexual violence in the Victim’s Law illustrates how the framing for understanding the plight of children born of war is not one of war-affected children but one that continues to understand women’s bodies as objects of reproduction that need to be regulated and controlled by the state. When asked about the terminology used in the Victims’ Law, Mantilla, who has raised awareness about this tension from the moment the law was published, noted: Our proposal was ‘children born as a result of sexual violence’, and those were the terms we used throughout our interventions. However, when the law was approved they changed nacido [born] for concebido [conceived]. That modification happened unnoticed and no one called attention about it.53 Mantilla points at two aspects that jeopardize women’s sexual and reproductive rights. First, sexual violence survivors could increasingly be refused abortions – refusals are already high in the country – on the basis that under the Victims’ Law the foetus is also considered a victim and is therefore entitled to redress. Secondly, considering that women face high levels of discouragement when they attempt to access their right to legal abortions, there is a possibility that the argument of receiving ‘double reparation’ will be used to try to convince them to give birth to the unwanted children. In practice, the implementation of measures of redress for children born of war has not been affected by such conceptual debates. In that sense, Mantilla stated that she has asked people working in the Unidad para las Víctimas about the consequences of the wording of the category and, to date, it has not been an obstacle regarding the rights of women or children. Mantilla notes: ‘So far the argument of the concebido has not been used to interfere with legal abortions or with reparations, or at least those situations have not been documented.’54 However, the fact that the argument about the concebido has not been used in relation to legal abortions or access to reparations says less about achievements in the context of women’s sexual and reproductive rights, and more about the absence of public debates and negotiations seeking to understand the plight, needs and roles of children born of war. CONCLUSION The category of children born as a result of wartime sexual violence is part of the Colombian normative framework that seeks to understand and address the consequences of the armed conflict, yet its inclusion within the Victims’ Law can be understood as the shell of a subject that still remains to be filled with social meaning in order to be intelligible within the realities in which transitional justice operates. To date, the configuration of these children as subjects in relation to the armed conflict has taken place within framings for understanding wartime sexual violence and, as such, they have been represented in relation to their mothers and their fathers. The lack of conceptualization and public political debate about these children, as well as the way in which they have been granted roles in relation to their parents, have prevented their configuration as independent subjects within the political community, and as individuals entitled to specific rights due to their experiences of violence. Instead, they have emerged as subjects within the social negotiations around victims of wartime sexual violence – for instance, gender and forced maternity – or around perpetrators and their never-ending presence in the history of the communities, for example, through naming practices like paraquitos. In the social reality in which the architecture of transitional justice operates, understanding and addressing the plight of women and men born of war represents the challenge of seeing beyond a political economy of victimhood and the moral system of the political community that frames the everyday life of sexual violence survivors and their sons and daughters, as independent subjects. To understand their plight and role, transitional justice frameworks must assume an interdisciplinary and intersectional lens and contest the normative approach to harm, as these women and men were conceived by war but are not defined by it. Silence about their situation transcends stigma and fear, and in the case of Colombia, the label of paraquitos represents only a snapshot of their experience. Although their lives start as war-affected children, as they grow older their identities and opportunities are under constant negotiation and embody different forms of violence and resistance that do not correspond with static notions of victimhood. Unintelligibility, in their case, is the result of overlapping violences: the violence of war, the violence entrenched in the patriarchal moral system and the structural violence of capital. In the case of women and men born of war, redress requires subverting the social order, otherwise transitional justice mechanisms merely accommodate the dominant economic, social and political values of society. Footnotes 1 Oxfam, ‘Primera encuesta de prevalencia. Violencia sexual en contra de las mujeres en el contexto del conflicto armado colombiano 2001–2009’ (2011), 11. 2 ‘Unidad para las Víctimas, ‘Registro Único de Víctimas,’ http://rni.unidadvictimas.gov.co/RUV (accessed 17 October 2017). 3 Personal interview, Diana Tamayo, coordinator of the Gender and Diversity Approach Team, Bogota, Colombia, 10 June 2016. 4 In the Colombian conflict, paramilitaries, guerrillas and governmental forces have committed sexual violence against women, girls, men and boys as strategies of terror to control the population and secure access to land and natural resources, and to gain control of strategic paths for the transport of drugs and weapons. In this context, the realities of the armed conflict in Colombia include generations of children born as a result of sexual violence, fathered by members of all armed groups. However, it is only in the case of children fathered by paramilitaries that I have found this collective subject, represented in naming practices and the label of los paraquitos. I do not intend to suggest that all children born as a result of wartime sexual violence experience similar processes as those fathered by paramilitary sexual violence, but to focus on how the label of los paraquitos has contributed to the configuration of a restricted understanding of these children’s experiences within human rights and transitional justice settings. 5 Julie Mertus, ‘Key Ethical Inquiries for Future Research,’ in Born of War: Protecting Children of Sexual Violence Survivors in Conflict Zones, ed. R. Charli Carpenter (Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, 2007). 6 See, e.g., R. Charli Carpenter, Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010); Ingvill C. Mochmann and Sabine Lee, ‘The Human Rights of Children Born of War: Case Analyses of Past and Present Conflicts,’ Historical Social Research 35(3) (2010): 268–298; Kimberly Theidon, ‘Hidden in Plain Sight: Children Born of Wartime Sexual Violence,’ Current Anthropology 56(S12) (2015): S191–S200. 7 Charli Carpenter, ‘Gender, Ethnicity and Children’s Human Rights: Theorizing Babies Born of Wartime Rape and Sexual Exploitation,’ in Born of War: Protecting Children of Sexual Violence Survivors in Conflict Zones, ed. R. Charli Carpenter (Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, 2007), 3. 8 UN News Centre, ‘Eradicating Sexual Violence in Colombia Requires Investment in Communities – UN Envoy,’ 4 March 2015, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=50246#.WUAaKdwo_cs (accessed 17 October 2017). 9 Personal interview, Rocío Mojica, Bogota, Colombia, 7 March 2016. 10 Kai Grieg, The War Children of the World (Bergen: War and Children Identity Project, 2001); R. Charli Carpenter, ‘Setting the Advocacy Agenda: Theorizing Issue Emergence and Nonemergence in Transnational Advocacy Networks,’ International Studies Quarterly 51(1) (2007): 99–120; Donna Seto, No Place for a War Baby: The Global Politics of Children Born of Wartime Sexual Violence (New York: Routledge, 2016). 11 Patricia Weitsman, ‘Children Born of War and the Politics of Identity,’ in Born of War: Protecting Children of Sexual Violence Survivors in Conflict Zones, ed. R. Charli Carpenter (Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, 2007). 12 Grieg, supra n 10. 13 Carpenter, supra n 6 at 52. 14 Mertus, supra n 5. 15 Carpenter, supra n 6. 16 Karmen Erjavec and Zala Volčič, ‘Living with the Sins of Their Fathers: An Analysis of Self-Representation of Adolescents Born of War Rape,’ Journal of Adolescent Research 25(3) (2010): 359–386. 17 Carpenter, supra n 7. 18 Pablo de Greiff, ‘Theorizing Transitional Justice,’ in Transitional Justice: NOMOS LI, ed. Melissa S. Williams, Rosemary Nagy and Jon Elster (New York: New York University Press, 2012), 44. 19 Damien Short, Reconciliation and Colonial Power: Indigenous Rights in Australia (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008). 20 Alejandro Castillejo Cuellar, Los archivos del dolor: ensayos sobre la violencia y el recuerdo en la Sudáfrica contemporánea (Bogotá: Ediciones Uniandes, 2009). 21 Claire Moon, ‘Narrating Political Reconciliation: Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa,’ Social and Legal Studies 15(2) (2006): 261. 22 De Greiff, supra n 18. 23 Moon, supra n 21. 24 Personal interview, Esther Ruíz, Bogota, Colombia, 7 March 2016. 25 Personal interview, María Eugenia Morales, Bogota, Colombia, 10 June 2016. 26 John Alexander Giraldo Lizcano and Ana María Jiménez Pava, Garantías y oportunidades para la defensa de la vida (Bogota: Benposta, 2015). 27 Personal conversation, Ruth, Buenos Aires, Colombia, 1 February 2016. 28 Personal conversation, Astrid, Buenos Aires, Colombia, 23 March 2015. 29 In the case of my fieldwork, the community no longer refers to children born as a result of paramilitary sexual violence as paraquitos. However, they are understood to be aggressive and violent members of the group because, according to local logics and values, their mothers have failed to raise them properly. Given the scope of this article, I do not develop this argument here. 30 Personal interview, Ana María Jiménez, Bogota, Colombia, 13 April 2016. 31 Ibid. 32 Lizcano and Pava, supra n 26 at 30. 33 Ibid. 34 Jan van Dijk, ‘Free the Victim: A Critique of the Western Conception of Victimhood,’ International Review of Victimology 16(1) (2009): 1–33. 35 Mark Neocleous, ‘Resisting Resilience,’ Radical Philosophy 178(6) (2013): 7. 36 Mantilla is referring to Theidon, supra n 6. 37 Personal interview, Julissa Mantilla, Skype, 19 February 2016. 38 Congress of the Republic of Colombia, Gazette 692/10. 39 Congress of the Republic of Colombia, Gazette 63/11: 44–45. 40 Maria Eriksson Baaz and Maria Stern, Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War?: Perceptions, Prescriptions, Problems in the Congo and beyond (London: Zed Books, 2013), 20. 41 Personal interview, Julissa Mantilla, Skype, 19 February 2016. 42 Weitsman, supra n 11. 43 Personal interview, Julissa Mantilla, Skype, 19 February 2016. 44 Veena Das, ‘The Citizen as Sexed: Women, Violence, and Reproduction,’ in Women and the Contested State: Religion, Violence, and Agency in South and Southeast Asia, ed. M. Skidmore and P. Lawrence (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007). 45 Colombian Constitutional Court Sentence C355 of 2006 (Jaime Araujo Rentería and Clara Inés Vargas Hernández). 46 Elena Prada, Susheela Singh, Lisa Remez and Cristina Villarreal, Unintended Pregnancy and Induced Abortion in Colombia: Causes and Consequences (New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2011), 6. 47 Ibid. 48 Margarita Martínez Osorio, Annika Dalén, Diana Esther Guzmán and Nina Chaparro González, ‘El ejercicio de la interrupción voluntaria del embarazo en el marco del conflicto armado,’ Documento Dejusticia 25, 2015, https://www.dejusticia.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/fi_name_recurso_796.pdf (accessed 18 October 2017). 49 Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica, ¡Basta ya! Colombia: memorias de Guerra y dignidad (Bogota: Imprenta nacional, 2013). 50 Diana Esther Guzmán Rodríguez and Sylvia Cristina Prieto Dávila, ‘Acceso a la justicia: Mujeres, conflicto armado y justicia,’ Documento Dejusticia 10, 2013, https://www.dejusticia.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/fi_name_recurso_364.pdf (accessed 18 October 2017). 51 El Espectador, ‘Conservadores exigen priorizar discusión despenalización del aborto,’ 21 September 2011, http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/politica/conservadores-exigen-priorizar-discusion-de-penalizacio-articulo-300915 (accessed 18 October 2017). 52 El Espectador, ‘No cesa lucha conservadora por abolir aborto en Colombia,’ 5 December 2011, http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/politica/no-cesa-lucha-conservadora-abolir-aborto-colombia-articulo-315090 (accessed 18 October 2017). 53 Personal interview, Julissa Mantilla, Skype, 19 February 2016. 54 Ibid. © The Author (2017). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email journals.permissions@oup.com

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International Journal of Transitional JusticeOxford University Press

Published: Mar 1, 2018

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