Yazidi survivors groups have embraced a decision by the community’s elders to allow children who are the result of rape by members of ISIS to return with their Yazidi mothers to their homelands in Iraq.
The landmark ruling by the Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council has cleared the way for hundreds of women to return from Syria, or Europe, with children that were born to them while captives of the terrorist group.
Until the decision made this week, women who refused to be separated from their children had been exiled by their own community, with many forced into detention camps in north-east Syria. Only those who had agreed to surrender newborns or infants had been allowed to return to their families in northern Iraq.
The decision is likely to directly affect many hundreds of women, who were enslaved by ISIS, and routinely raped by the organisation’s members, who declared them to be “godless” and “devil worshippers”. The enslavement took place from August 2014, when the Yazidi heartland near the Sinjar mountains was over-run by the extremists who launched an attempted genocide against the 550,000 strong community, killing at least 5,000 men and capturing many thousands of women and girls.
The shift in policy declared that what had happened to the Yazidi women had been “out of their control”. It said elders had been sent to north-east Syria to look for Yazidi women housed in two large detention camps, with a view to bringing them back to Iraq with their children.
Searches will also start in orphanages across Iraq, where hundreds of Yazidi women handed over their babies in order to be allowed to return to their families. Other infants were handed directly to families who informally adopted them, some pretending that the children were their own.
Pari Ibrahim, executive director of the Free Yezidi Foundation, said the ruling had been long sought and warmly welcomed by women who had been subjected to the double trauma of rape and captivity, then forced separation, often from the only thing that had sustained them.
“Here you have women who were in captivity living in hell, and the only thing that was giving them love was their child,” she said. “Then that was taken away from them.
“I am very happy. This is the result of pressure from a lot of different organisations and reflection from within the community itself. There has been talk among the families about many aspects; the innocence of a child, the acceptance within our community for others. For a long time, this subject was not even up for discussion. You have to accept the perpetrator’s blood in your community. This is the way they see it.”
On Friday, elders moved to clarify the status of children whose fathers were ISIS fighters, insisting that while they could live with their mothers in Yazidi communities, they would not be accepted as Yazidis themselves.
“We are a peaceful religion, and we are very tolerant toward humanity and we accept these children who are fathered by Muslims only as humans and based on the norms that our religion has toward humanity,” said Bahzad Sleman Saffu, a member of the Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council. “But not as Yazidis since our religious [law] doesn’t allow that.
“No one can convert to Yazidism. The children of the Yazidi victims are born from a Muslim father, and our religious rules can’t accept them as Yazidis. However, their mothers are a member of our community who have been subjected to rape and atrocities, and they are still accepted as a member of our community.
“Under Iraqi law children should be registered under the religion of their fathers, and the fathers of these children is unknown. That is why we renewed our request from the international community to take these women to Europe and western countries to register these children under their mothers’ names.”
The move has been welcomed by the UN and NGOs which have demanded global protections be given to minorities displaced and enslaved by the ISIS rampage.
“Yazidi women who were taken captive by ISIS fighters who later gave birth to children from rape have told me how painful it was for them to give their children to orphanages or to the fighters’ families before they were able to return home to their community,” said Belkis Wille, senior Iraq researcher for Human Rights Watch. “They felt pressured to do so because they feared their children born through rape were not welcome back home. This declaration was long needed.”
Juliette Touma, regional communications chief for Unicef, said: “Unicef welcomes the position of Yazidi heads of communities. It is in line with our position that a child is a child. Regardless of the alleged affiliation or alleged military role of a child’s family, children should receive the utmost care and all the assistance they need.”