Born between war and peace: life courses of peacekeeper-fathered children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo


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Wagner, Kirstin M ORCID: (2022). Born between war and peace: life courses of peacekeeper-fathered children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis explores the experiences of children who were fathered and abandoned by United Nations (UN) peacekeepers during the peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It sheds light on the circumstances of their conception and identifies the implications of those circumstances for their upbringing. Seeking to understand who peacekeeper-fathered children (PKFC) are and how their heritage affects them in leading productive lives, the study presents central themes in their biographies: Father absence, identity challenges, socio-economic hardship, and lack of assistance. Therefore, and through these themes, the thesis contributes to the conceptualisation of their life courses.

The United Nations Stabilisation Organisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) was used as a case study, providing new insights regarding the DRC’s long-standing history of conflict-related sexual violence and its impact on survivors for whom such acts can result in pregnancy and childbirth. Fieldwork took place between May and July 2018 in six communities in eastern DRC, where semi-structured interviews, some of them aided by visual methods, were conducted with 35 PKFC and 60 mothers. Grounded in the experiences of these participants, the thesis addresses relational aspects of PKFC’s identity that illustrate how their background makes them vulnerable to childhood adversities. In considering how their abandonment clashes with Congolese norms and traditions, the broader socio-political context of peacekeeping missions and its colonial legacy are discussed.

In this thesis, I offer two conceptual ways of thinking about PKFC: the first considers PKFC children born of war who suffer from fatherlessness and the related consequences (e.g., low social status and financial insecurity) – requiring solutions that target their well-being on an individual level; the second understands PKFC’s neglect to be symbolic for asymmetrical global dependencies and inequalities – requiring solutions that target the failure of peacekeeping and humanitarian interventions to protect local civilians and provide victims of sexual exploitation and abuse with assistance. In combining these two angles, I situate a psychological analysis of identity and well-being within a broader web of cultural
and political factors (patriarchal norms, neo-colonial practices, legal and procedural shortcomings) that cause PKFC’s rights to be compromised. With implications for academia, policy and practice, this work sets an agenda for how the international community can better respond to the needs of PKFC and improve their situation on a personal, societal, and political level.

To illustrate how the lives of PKFC are impacted by challenges arising from their unique heritage, the participants' perspectives are introduced in four research papers, each focusing on a different level of experience and disciplinary examination. Building on this, the thesis critically engages with different academic fields that have active and ongoing conversations regarding conflict-affected children, i.e., psychology, human rights, and development studies. In this way, it encourages more comprehensive, interdisciplinary research and calls for a shift in the way academia approaches global challenges.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Bartels, Susan
Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of History and Cultures, Department of History
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council, Other
Other Funders: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Canada, Global Challenges
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
K Law > K Law (General)


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