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In November 2022, more than 50 countries and the UN agreed urgent action to end sexual violence in conflict at the UK-hosted Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) Conference. Around 40 countries, including the UK, also made national commitments outlining the steps they will take to tackle sexual violence in conflict. In a significant additional step, the UK government launched the platform for action promoting the rights and wellbeing of children conceived in conflict-related sexual violence, outlining the practical steps that can be taken to implement the principles of an earlier Call to Action:

  • Speaking out on the challenges faced by children born of sexual violence in conflict and their role in building peaceful, prosperous societies in national, regional, and global discussions.
  • Providing space for children born of sexual violence and the survivors who bore them to share their knowledge safely and meaningfully in discussions and debates affecting them.
  • Strengthening legal and policy frameworks to eliminate barriers and proactively support the rights and well-being of children born of sexual violence in conflict.
  • Encouraging child-sensitive approaches to sustainable development that recognise children born of sexual violence amongst the most vulnerable and at risk of being left behind.

The University of Birmingham has been leading global research into the adversities associated with being a child born of war (CBOW) and specifically a child conceived because of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV).

Sabine Lee, Professor of Modern History, University of Birmingham

The University of Birmingham has been leading global research into the adversities associated with being a child born of war (CBOW) and specifically a child conceived because of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). CRSV, which includes rape, sexual torture, sexual slavery and forced marriage, inflicts immense pain, sometimes mortal injuries and physical and psychological suffering on the direct victims, but also – and prominently acknowledged not only in the Call to Action, but also in the recent annual report of the United Nations Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict 2023 – on the children conceived in these atrocities.

Projects in our School of History and Cultures, the Law School, the International Development Department and in Global Public Health, among others, have contributed to the now widely accepted understanding that CRSV is neither inevitable nor unavoidable collateral damage related to conflict and war and that children conceived in CRSV can be victims and are rights holders, too. A Horizon2020-funded international, interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral doctoral training network comprising 15 doctoral projects concerning children born of war and two AHRC-funded research projects specifically about children fathered by peacekeepers have shed light on life courses of children born of war and, through collaboration with support organisations, service providers, NGOs and the UN, have informed the policy debates.

Through participatory with young people who were conceived in CRSV, documentary dance theatre productions have been developed and a documentary film, The Wound is Where the Light Enters, produced by Dheeraj Akolkar and vardo films won the AHRC Research in Film Award in the Inspiration category. In collaboration with international partners and support of the United Nations, researchers in the School of History and Cultures have engaged in policy-relevant research to evaluate gender-sensitivity in training of NATO and UN soldiers to improve the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse in peace support operations and other international deployments.

With its track record of impactful research the University is in a strong position to contribute prominently to policy discourses and evidence-based policy-making; to this end, in July 2023, coinciding with the annual United Nations Open Debate on CRSV, the University of Birmingham became the first university formally to endorse the FCDO Platform for Action, acknowledging the principles of the Call for Action and explicitly committing to a range of supporting initiatives including the development of an pilot impact acceleration project in Northern Uganda to utilise research on CBCRSV more effectively in programming and in the implementation of evidence-based research.