Myriam Denov

Current affiliation:
McGill University

Professor Denov works on the conditions and the prospects of children born of rape in Northern Uganda and other conflict zones. Grounded in one-on-one work with former child soldiers and with the soldiers’ own children, her Trudeau project will inform Canada’s programs for youth and families attempting to resettle after surviving war.

1) Tell us about your Trudeau project

Armed conflicts are dramatically altering the lives of children and youth around the world with devastating social, economic, political, psychological, and health effects.  My Trudeau project is concerned with the well-being of children and families affected by armed conflict, especially children born of wartime rape.  In the last decade, it has been estimated that tens of thousands of children have been born of wartime mass rape campaigns, sexual violence, and forced pregnancy.  Literally born of war, these children are deeply affected by the social upheavals that brought about their conception and by society's mistreatment on the basis of their biological origins. While international law has now recognized rape and forced impregnation as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and instances of genocide, the long-term implications for mothers, children, and community members are poorly understood.

My project seeks to fill this research gap by studying the lived realities and experiences of children born of wartime rape in Northern Uganda, where women and girls were systematically raped and forcibly impregnated on a large scale, resulting in the birth of thousands of children.  The project will examine the issue from the perspectives of mothers, children, and community members.  The study will contribute to understandings of post-war maternal health, child protection, and rights, and will provide duty-bearers with evidence to assist in post-war programming for children, families, and communities. 

2) Explain one of the most interesting discovering you have made so far

The socioeconomic, political, and health consequences for children born of wartime rape are profound and may include violence, social exclusion, contested citizenship, and overall invisibility and neglect.  Children’s statuses as “war babies” has been found to foster direct and indirect forms of violence at the individual, family, and community levels, including stigma, social exclusion, abandonment, and infanticide, as well as inequities in relation to access to health, education, and employment. In addition, given their biological origins, these children's very citizenship and ethnic identity are often contested by local and international actors.  As a result, their right to education, family, identity and physical security has been severely curtailed.  As older children, they may be stateless and efforts to secure their rights under international law may prove fruitless; as adults, their ability to secure a sense of their own identity may be prevented by legislation that impedes access to records about their birth parents.  Despite these profound rights violations and social injustices, this population has been largely neglected and overlooked.  Local, national, and international post-war policies and programs have yet to address this highly vulnerable and invisible population.  

3) How will the Trudeau fellowship help you pursue your work?

The Trudeau fellowship will provide critical support for this project, facilitating an in-depth examination of a marginalized group of children that is in dire need of research, policy, and practice attention. The examination will not only lead to deeper understandings of the problems faced by children born of war, as well as issues of rights and citizenship, but may also lead to more policy development and innovation that directly impacts the lives of war-affected children and youth and broader populations of marginalized children and youth internationally. The project will also be a critical first step in my future work conducting a multi-country study on children born of rape.

The fellowship will also provide a unique opportunity to explore and implement innovative methodologies, particularly participatory research approaches with youth.  Committed to a participatory approach, this research project will train as researchers several youth from Northern Uganda, aged between 18 and 24 years, who have been directly affected by war. The young researchers will be involved in the study’s design, participant outreach, the development of interview guides, data collection and analysis.  Inviting war-affected youth to play a leading role in the research process will not only attempt to redress traditional power imbalances, enhancing the quality of the research project, but will also provide purposeful activity that will be educational and empowering. 

4) How will your research project help develop better public policies in Canada?

The project will encourage dialogue and debate concerning Canada’s role in advocating for children affected by war around the globe.  The study will provide Canadian and international governments, nongovernmental organizations, and the United Nations with recommendations regarding appropriate post-war youth support and interventions, particularly for children born of wartime rape. Canada has historically been a world leader on issues related to children and armed conflict.  The project and its focus on a marginalized and neglected group of children has the capacity to secure Canada’s place at the forefront of an under-researched issue of international significance.

Each year, thousands of children enter Canada, fleeing from war zones.  Yet, this group has been largely overlooked in Canadian research, policy, and service provision. My Trudeau project has the capacity to advance knowledge on the realities of war-affected youth living in Canada and their potential policy and service provision needs, particularly following war-induced migration and resettlement to Canada.

The project’s focus on youth-engaged and participatory research is of relevance to populations of marginalized children and youth in Canada where these populations' citizenship, civic participation, and leadership are often challenged.  These populations include Aboriginal children and youth, immigrant and refugee children and youth, and children and youth living in poverty.  Ultimately, my research findings will contribute to greater understandings related to gender, power, rights and citizenship in Canada and abroad.

Dr. Myriam Denov holds the Canada Research Chair in Youth, Gender and Armed Conflict (Tier 1), and is a professor at McGill University's School of Social Work.  Professor Denov’s research focuses on gender-based violence, children in adversity, and international child protection, with an emphasis on children in armed conflict. A specialist in participatory and arts-based research who has worked with war-affected children in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, Professor Denov is currently conducting research on the reintegration experiences of former child soldiers in Sierra Leone and Colombia, and war-affected youth living in Canada. Denov has presented expert evidence in court on child soldiers and has advised government and nongovernmental organizations on children in armed conflict and girls in armed groups.  She has authored four books, including Child Soldiers: Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (Cambridge University Press) and Children’s Rights and International Development: Lessons and Challenges from the Field (Palgrave Macmillan).  Funded by FQRSC, she currently leads a multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary research team on children and global adversity.  Denov holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge, where she was a Commonwealth Scholar.