Women raped in Bosnian war struggled with decision to keep babies

On the 20th anniversary of the start of the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti speaks with two women who were raped during the conflict about their painful decision to keep children they knew would be life-long reminders of the trauma they suffered.

WARNING: Disturbing content

Anna Maria Tremonti, host of CBC Radio's The Current, stands on a road next to a sign warning that there are mines in the area on her way to the Bosnian town of Tuzla to interview a woman who was raped during the 1992-95 civil war. (CBC)

The 1992-95 civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina had no shortage of horrors, but one of the most atrocious crimes was the campaign of systematic rape carried out against women during the conflict.

Rape has been used to terrorize and humiliate a perceived enemy in many wars, but in the Bosnian conflict, it also became "an instrument of ethnic cleansing," according to a United Nations special rapporteur who investigated the use of rape during the war in Bosnia and Croatia and found the practice was condoned by the military leaders in power at the time.

UN commission investigating what the Security Council had referred to as "the massive, organized and systematic detention and rape of women" in the Bosnian war concluded that "although all sides to the conflict had perpetrated sexual violence, the vast majority of the victims were Bosnian Muslims, the vast majority of the perpetrators were Bosnian Serbs."

The UN commission examined 1,100 reported cases of sexual violence, but we are unlikely to ever know exactly how many women were raped during the course of the four-year war or how many children were conceived in these brutal acts. Nor do we know just how many of the victims decided to keep those offspring.

Two women who did decide to raise the children fathered by their aggressors recently spoke to Anna Maria Tremonti of CBC Radio's The Current, who reported on the war 20 years ago and returned to Bosnia last month.

In a heart-wrenching radio documentary, the women recount the assaults committed against them and how they made the agonizing decision to keep children they knew would be painful, life-long reminders of the trauma they suffered. Listen to the full documentary by clicking on the audio tab above.