Yazidi women seek acceptance for children born of IS rape

Yazidi religious authorities have walked back on a decision suggesting that they would accept the children of women raped by Islamic State group captors. Though the children are innocent, to many they represent genocide.

Last week, the Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council overturned a decision stating that "all" survivors of Islamic State group crimes would be taken in, prompting a debate over how the children of women raped by IS militants might be reintegrated into the minority sect's society in northern Iraq.

Law and Justice | 11.12.2018

After faith leaders on the council previously evaded sensitive specifics in their first statement, they clarified that it "did not mean the children born as a result of rape, but those who were born from Yazidi parents and were kidnapped during the invasion."

Yazidi survivor and Nobel laureate Nadia Murad responded to the decision in a video statement Sunday, saying "the first and last decision belongs to the survivors and their families and no one has the right to make decisions that belong to them."

"If they decide to return with their children, we as a society must respect their decision, welcome them and offer them any possible help," Murad said.

Middle East | 02.05.2016

Up to 200 of the 3,500 Yazidi women who returned home after the 2014 onslaught by IS escaped with children, according to Zeynep Kaya, a research fellow at the London School of Economics Middle East Centre.

Resistance to the council's original statement accepting all survivors arose as the community continued to grapple with the trauma of the 2014 genocide, its implications for a Yazidi identity under threat, and stigma around sexual assault that has shamed and silenced survivors.

The community has traditionally not recognized marriage and conception between Yazidis and non-Yazidis, or accepted religious conversion. Community groups say the restrictions help the small group protect the integrity of its identity and maintain survival in the face of genocide.

Read moreIraq's Yazidis mourn the loss of their homeland

The plight of the Yazidi minority in Iraq

The Yazidis: A history of persecution

For hundreds of years, the Yazidi community has been persecuted for its religious views, an amalgamation of Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam. Throughout their history, they have been killed, forced to convert to other religions and even taken as slaves. While the Kurdish-speaking minority community in northern Iraq had been attacked before, 2014 marked a tragic turning point in history.

The plight of the Yazidi minority in Iraq

Genocide

In 2014, the "Islamic State" militant group launched a blitzkrieg campaign across Iraq and Syria, capturing large swathes of territory and laying waste to areas such as Mount Sinjar, the ancestral homeland of the Yazidis. More than 5,000 people were killed and up to 10,000 kidnapped, many of them children. The event was described by the UN as a genocide.

The plight of the Yazidi minority in Iraq

Slavery

The "Islamic State" abducted hundreds of girls and women and enslaved them in the wake of the assault. The militant group created a database of all the women, including pictures of them, to document who bought them and to ensure they do not escape. While dozens of women were able to escape, hundreds more remain missing.

The plight of the Yazidi minority in Iraq

Missing

Thousands of men, women and children remain missing. Critics have accused Iraqi authorities of doing little to find those who were abducted after Baghdad declared military victory over the militant group in December 2017. Family members fear that up to 3,000 Yazidis will remain indefinitely unaccounted for.

The plight of the Yazidi minority in Iraq

Scattered

In the wake of the "Islamic State" militant group's systematic assault on the Yazidis, many have fled to neighboring countries, Europe and beyond. While some families have found refuge outside their country, others have been forced to stay in camps in Iraqi Kurdistan. Although the UN is helping to rebuild houses in their ancestral homeland, many still believe IS poses a threat to their existence.

Punishing them twice

Yazidi activist and former Iraqi parliamentarian Amina Said agreed that the families should be the ones to decide the fate of the children. "As a mother, I feel what the women are feeling," she told DW. "I can understand the community reaction because I also live in the community … but they are victims. If we close all the doors for them they will be punished twice."

Said believes the Spiritual Council made positive steps in 2015, when they allowed returning women who had been forced to convert to Islam to be rebaptized in a new ceremony, but said that they had made the wrong move this time by not consulting the community.

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"If they took the time to talk with the families, with the women and with some NGOs, then I think they could find a way for the women," she said.

New hope for Yazidi women tortured by IS fighters

Hoping for help

Perwin Ali Baku escaped the Islamic State after more than two years in captivity. The 23-year-old Yazidi woman was captured together with her 3-year-old daughter. "I don't feel right," she says, sitting on a mattress on the floor of her father-in-law's small hut in a northern Iraq refugee camp. "I still can't sleep and my body is tense all the time."

New hope for Yazidi women tortured by IS fighters

Tormenting flashbacks

When Perwin hears a loud voice, she cringes at the thought of her captors. She hopes for help at the newly established institute in Iraq, part of an ambitious project funded by the German state of Baden Württemberg that has already brought 1,100 women who had escaped Islamic State captivity to Germany for psychological treatment.

New hope for Yazidi women tortured by IS fighters

Kabarto refugee camp

Members of Germany's 100,000 strong Yazidi community reached out to help the women - and the Baden Württemberg state legislature approved a €95-million program ($106 million) over three years to bring women abused by the IS to Germany. Now, help is on the way on-site in Iraq.

New hope for Yazidi women tortured by IS fighters

No trauma treatment - yet

As fighting rages between Iraqi forces and the IS in Mosul only about 75 km from Dohuk, the number of victims that make it to freedom increases daily. 26 psychiatrists work in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq with its population of 5.5 million and more than 1.5 million refugees and internally displaced people. None specialize in treating trauma.

New hope for Yazidi women tortured by IS fighters

Hope on the horizon

German trauma specialist Jan Kizilhan, who has Yazidi roots but immigrated to Germany at the age of 6, is the driving force behind the new institute. The program will train local mental health professionals to treat people like Perwin and thousands of Yazidi women, children and other Islamic State victims.

New hope for Yazidi women tortured by IS fighters

Training psychotherapists

The idea is to train 30 new professionals for three years and then extend the program to other regional universities: in ten years' time, there could be more than 1,000 psychotherapists in the area. Students will receive a double master's degree in psychotherapy and psychotraumatology according to German standards, and training from both local and German professors.

New hope for Yazidi women tortured by IS fighters

Duty to help

Kizilhan has interviewed thousands of women in refugee camps - and more recently, prospective students for the program's inaugural class: "We are talking about general trauma, we are talking about collective trauma and we are talking about genocide. That's the reason we have to help if we can - it's our human duty to help them."

Stigma, genocide and the law

Some Yazidis have argued that relocation was the only way for children and the community to avoid stigma, and that protecting an already fragile community, above the interests of individual children and mothers, should be the priority.

According to Ahmed Burjus, deputy director of the Yazidi support group Yazda, one of the most painful aspects for the community has been coming to terms with children whose fathers had wrought genocide on a community that once numbered 500,000 people. Burjus said one man told him he hoped his wife would return "but not with the son of someone from Chechnya, Turkey or Saudi Arabia. You know that this person was responsible for genocide, looting all your belongings, destroying your house and killing your family. Now you are forced to bring the son or daughter of one of them to your house."

Some community members, according Burjus, also feared the children would be singled out for revenge by others who had suffered under IS, be subjected to stigma for life and would have difficulty registering as Yazidi under Iraqi law because their father was unknown but presumed Muslim.

Iraq's controversial national identity card law dictates a child should be registered as Muslim if either of the parents is Muslim, adding legal issues on top of Yazidi religious doctrine.

Although draft legislation currently before Iraqi parliament seeks to redress some aspects of Yazidi suffering, including the rights of female survivors, it does not contain exemptions for children born of rape.

"So we believe these women and children need to be respected and helped," Burjus told DW. "And the best way to do that is to resettle them outside Iraq in another country and provide them a life with dignity."

Read more: A Yazidi mother's torment in Iraq, 4 years after the genocide

Kept in limbo

Many Yazidi women who survived have already left for Germany, Europe and Australia, further fragmenting the fragile Yazidi identity, but other mothers abducted by IS have found a way to quietly reintegrate into their former communities.

Some hid their pregnancies and gave their babies to family members, others claimed to have met Yazidi husbands while imprisoned, according to Zeynep Kaya. However, most women "will probably just give up their children and babies and go back to their community; or just leave the country," she said.

"It's very hard for these women because they are basically kept in limbo," Kaya added. "They want to go back to their communities but they have to give up their children. It's another level of rejection and exclusion basically, on top of what they have already suffered."

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