For the children of survivors of ISIS rape and genocide a long road home may be smoother but hurdles remain in Iraq and Syria.

CHILDREN FROM THE Yazidi community, who were recently freed after being captured by Islamic State
CHILDREN FROM THE Yazidi community, who were recently freed after being captured by Islamic State fighters, ride on a back of a truck near Baghouz, Syria, earlier this week. (photo credit: RODI SAID / REUTERS)


In 2014 Islamic State attacked the Yazidi minority community in Iraq, systematically murdering men and enslaving women. More than four years later women who survived the horrifying ordeal of ISIS torture and captivity have returned home but they often face difficult struggles. While the minority community welcomed back women survivors, bringing back children has been more difficult.

This week the Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council issued a declaration that welcomed back all survivors, including women and children born from rape. For activists who have been helping Yazidis this is an important move and means that many women and their children may find respite. The declaration comes as Nobel Laureate Nadia Murad, a survivors of ISIS, has said that ISIS perpetrators of the 2014 genocide must be brought to justice. The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Murad and another activist for their work to raise awareness about the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.

Recently dozens of Yazidi victims, including their children, were repatriated to Iraq after being liberated in Syria from the clutches of ISIS. Amal Clooney, the human rights lawyer, has been pressing to bring charges against specific ISIS rapists and collaborators.

Thomas von der Osten-Sacken, director of the German NGO Wadi, which promotes self-help programs in the Middle East since 1992, says this ruling is very important for helping mothers and children. In 2015 Wadi began helping hundreds of women and girls who had returned from ISIS captivity. They helped providing psychological help and other assistance. Osten-Sacken says that after ISIS attacked Sinjar and kidnapped thousands of women there was fear about how the community would react to the women who were victims of sexual assault. “In their tradition this is dishonoring and ISIS knew what they were doing by raping and selling [the women] as slaves and abusing them sexually, so it was important that they released this declaration that they welcomed the girls back and reintegrate the girls into the community,” he says. He says that ISIS use of systematic rape was designed to make women pregnant and to use this against the community. He links it with other examples of rape used in war, such as in Darfur and Bangladesh. “It was clear there will be babies and the longer the girls are in captivity, the higher the possibility that they get pregnant.”

Since 2017 Yazidis told Wadi that they had more and more cases of women coming back from ISIS captivity with babies and children. By the time of the last major offensive in Syria against ISIS, some of the women had been held for four years. While the women could be reintegrated the children faced several hurdles. Iraq was already dealing with a large number of women who were widows of ISIS members and also children born to ISIS supporters who had become orphans. Many of these children ended up in orphanages, stigmatizes as ISIS children. These children were Muslims and according to Islamic law in a warped way the children of Yazidi women were also seen as Muslims because their fathers were ostensibly Muslim. By Iraqi law the religion of children is recorded so from the point of view of both religious and state laws the children were Muslim, not Yazidi. From the point of view of the Yazidi community leaders this was highly problematic and they didn’t see an easy way to either integrate the children or raise them as Muslims. In other cases Yazidi women who returned from Syria felt pressures to put their children in an orphanage or even faced Iraqi border guards who wanted to send the children to the orphanages with other “ISIS children.”

“We were thinking how to solve this issue in a cultural-sensible way,” says Osten-Sacken. “The girls and the children shouldn’t pay a price for the genocide that ISIS did, so we understand it was best to give the women the chance to decide, do they want to keep the children or keep them in safe hands, so the concept was to create a safe house and if they want to leave the community and go abroad they could, or they could allow the children to be adopted,” he says.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post