"If I was with my father such discrimination wouldn't exist, I could be happy like other people": a qualitative analysis of stigma among peacekeeper fathered children in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Authors

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Section of Rheumatology, University of Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany.
  • Queen's University

Abstract

BACKGROUND: The United Nations (UN) Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) comprises the largest and longest serving peacekeeping operation to date. Since the launch of the mission in 1999, sexual relations between UN peacekeepers and the local population regularly occur; some resulting in children being conceived. Reports have indicated that women and girls bearing children from such relations face difficult socio-economic realities. The present study is the first to explore the situation of peacekeeper fathered children (PKFC) through a qualitative analysis that includes interview material from mothers and child participants.

METHODS: The article uses theories from stigma research to illustrate how children conceived through sexual relations with UN peacekeepers integrate into social networks. We conducted a case study of mothers and their PKFC at different sites of UN peacekeeping (UNPK) in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Based on 95 in-depth interviews held in 2018, a thematic qualitative analysis examined experiences of stigma and discrimination. In order to understand the challenges of mothers and children from a transgenerational perspective, we evaluated perceptions of rejection rooted in the mother-child relationship.

RESULTS: Of the mothers and children surveyed, a large majority struggled with stigmatizing behaviour by family and/or community members. PKFC perceived their discrimination to be based upon their mixed ethnicity, fatherlessness, illegitimacy at birth, as well as a lack of resources and opportunity. Mothers most often attributed their stigma to economic deprivation, extra-marital sexual relations, single parenting and being associated with UNPK. Parallels in the experiences of mothers and children suggest a bi-directional transmission of status loss and stigma between generations.

CONCLUSIONS: This is the first empirical study to compare the situation of PKFC and their mothers in any country of UNPK deployment. The findings highlight multiple burdens that affect their daily lives and illustrate an interplay between drivers of stigmatization for mothers and children. The overarching needs identified are financial, and these call for action regarding policies and programmes that provide resources to those concerned. The results further demonstrate the need for psychosocial support that considers transgenerational dynamics and both mothers and children as core addressees of assistance.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Article number76
JournalConflict and Health
Volume14
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Nov 2020

Keywords

  • Children Born of War, Democratic Republic of Congo, Peacekeeping, Sexual Misconduct, Stigma, Transgenerational, United Nations