STACY SULLIVAN and JOSHUA HAMMER
NEWSWEEK, Sep 23, 1996
Rape Wasn't Just A Byproduct Of Ethnic Cleansing In Bosnia And Rwanda. It Was A Devastating Weapon. The U.N. Tribunal In The Hague Has Ruled It A War Crime. Even So, No One Expects Many Perpetrators To Be Brought To Justice. And What Justice Can There Ever Be For The Children Of Those Rapes--Rejected And Despised Merely For How They Were Conceived?
ALEN MUHIC'S BIRTHMOTHER wishes she could forget Feb. 20, 1993, the day he was born. ""When I heard him cry, I asked the doctor to bring him to me,'' the 33-year-old woman recalls. ""I wanted to strangle him.'' Instead she abandoned him in the besieged Bosnian town of Gorazde, at the hospital where the delivery took place. He was a living reminder of the rape and torture she had survived. The sickly, malnourished infant might have died there. But a repairman at the hospital fell in love with him. Muharem Muhic took the boy home to his wife in the daytime and brought him back at night. Food was scarce in the Muslim enclave, and the Muhics had no heat or running water. They formally adopted Alen when he was 5 months old. Now he's a talkative, friendly boy obsessed with airplanes. He calls the Muhics Mama and Papa. He has never been told the circumstances of his birth. ""I love him so much, more even than my own daughters,'' says Avdia Muhic. ""I don't know how I'm going to tell him, but I must.''
If the Muhics don't tell him, someone else is bound to. The story was all over town even before they adopted him. Alen's natural mother, a Muslim now living in Sarajevo, came from Miljevina, a coal-mining town in eastern Bosnia. She says Alen's father was one of her neighbors, a married Serb with a daughter her age. He forced himself on her after the town was captured by Bosnian Serb forces in April 1992. When he was done, he slashed her with a knife, held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her if she told anyone. She says he continued to rape, beat and threaten her several times a week. In October she escaped to Gorazde. She was five months pregnant. Doctors in Gorazde told her it was too late for them to perform an abortion. She thought about drowning herself. What keeps her alive now is her dream of taking vengeance on the man who raped her.
Casualties of war:
Thousands of women were raped during the war in Bosnia. The European Union estimates the number at 20,000; Bosnia's Interior Ministry says it was closer to 50,000. No one knows how many children were born from those rapes. Most pregnancies ended in abortions rather than births. But some women were too far along for an abortion by the time they reached a doctor. Hardly anyone is willing to talk about the babies they had--""children of hate,'' they are sometimes called. The victims believe they have brought shame on themselves and their families by being raped. Most say they never want to return to their former homes. Relief agencies that care for the unwanted children are almost as reluctant to address the topic. ""[The subject of] rape here is much more taboo than it is in the West,'' says Toril Araldsen, a psychologist who oversees a women's counseling center in Tuzla run by Norwegian People's Aid. ""It is so taboo that even the local therapists are hesitant to bring it up.''
The silence doesn't seem to have done the children much good. Uprooted and unwanted, they often inhabit a bureaucratic limbo. Until last year Human Relief International, an Islamic aid group, ran a small home in Croatia for nine Bosnian orphans, most of them children of rape. The group says it heard from plenty of foreigners eager to adopt, but the Bosnian government insisted that the children were Bosnians and belonged in Bosnia. Last May, at the government's insistence, the children were moved to the state orphanage in Zenica, an industrial town in central Bosnia. It's a big, impersonal building, fallen into disrepair after years of war and housing 148 children. The director, Aisa Klico, 57, refuses to answer questions about anyone's background. ""We do not single out the children of rape,'' she says. ""They will be told their names, dates of birth and citizenship, and that is it.''
Their hopes of finding new homes keep dwindling. Most children of wartime rapes in Bosnia are 3 or 4 now, and most prospective parents prefer newborns. Besides, not many Bosnians these days are in a position to adopt children of any age. Average family income is about $100 a month. Half the population is displaced. Klico says she never gives up trying to find new families for the children in her care--and she insists that breaking the orphanage's policy of secrecy would only make the job harder. ""Adoptive families want to know everything,'' she says. ""But very often they do not want to adopt children of rape.'' Especially not the children of ethnic cleansers.
|< «||» >|