Children of Rape Living Reminders of Horrible Secret of the Bosnian Genocide
By Teddie Weyr
Gadsden Times, p.A6
26 January 1993.
ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — No one knows how many there may be. Outwardly, they will carry no scarlet letter. But a fear they may be stigmatized by their horrible secret has sparked a scramble to save innocents from the sins of their fathers.
They are the babies of victims of rape – living reminders of its use as a tool of war in Bosnia.
Publicity has touched a nerve and led to adoption offers from across the world. With the first few of these children already born and many more on the way, much is left to be decided. But it is clear many of their mothers never want to lay eyes on them.
“This crime has horrible implications, psychological to existential,” Martin Raguz, the social services minister of the Muslim-led Bosnian government said. “I think we can project that a lot of these children will be up for adoption.”
Estimates of the number of women raped range from 20,000 to 50,000, and it is uncertain how many became pregnant and how many might have been able to obtain an abortion. Despite making a special study, the European Community says it cannot predict how many children will be born.
Many of the women are afraid to talk about their ordeals, and still live in war zones or as refugees in foreign countries.
One Muslim [Bosniak] woman interviewed in a Zagreb hospital acknowledged her unborn child was guilty of nothing, but added, “When I think of it, I remember everything and blood comes to my eyes.”
There are three known cases in Croatia of babies abandoned by rape victims. But Dr. Veselko Grizelj, chief obstetrician at Zagreb’s Petrova Hospital, believes there will be many more. The fighting in Bosnia began 10 months ago.
“We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
There are many pockets of Bosniaks resistance throughout Bosnia where decent medical care and access to the outside world are impossible.
There are chilling allegations of rape camps set up by Serb irregulars.
Many experts fear that women carrying these children will not come forward. In patriarchal Muslim society in Bosnia, there is almost nothing more shameful.
There are nearly 300,000 Bosnian refugees in Croatia, most of them Bosniaks who fled Serb attacks. Some are women who were raped.
Ivica Simunovic, Croatia’s minister of labor and social services, says the children are legally Bosnian, and their government must make the decisions about their future.
One thing it could do in the meantime would be to authorize Croatia to arrange adoptions for the duration of the war, he said.
The primary concern, said Raguz, the Bosnian minister who has two small children of his own, is to ensure all Bosnian children survive, not only those born to rape victims.
Raguz acknowledged that dealing with the babies of rape victims is a “special issue (which) can’t be regulated by the exiting legal procedure. We’re talking about an unprecedented war crime.”
Nevertheless, he said laws cannot be ignored. That is problematic. Both Bosnian and Croatian law require the signature of both parents for adoption.
Many women don’t even know where their husbands are, or if they are still alive. In any case, few want their husbands to know they were raped, let alone pregnant.
Raguz said his ministry must give its approval to foreign adoptions because priority is given to Bosnian couples.
He suggested babies could be temporarily placed with families wishing to adopt them and the legal details sorted out later.
The Bosnian and Croatian governments have set up crisis teams, but already adoption offers are flooding in.
“Almost no day goes by when people from the whole world don’t call,” said Jelena Brajsa, head of the Roman Catholic organization Caritas in Zagreb.