Women raped by ISIS men must choose between offspring and family
The Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council announced on April 28 that it will not accept as part of the community children born to Yazidi women raped by Islamic State fighters.
The Yazidis, who are concentrated in northern Iraq, were the targets of an ISIS-perpetrated genocide in 2014. Thousands were killed or enslaved, and many are still missing. ISIS held mostly women and children captive as sex slaves.
It is estimated that over 85 percent of the Yazidi population is displaced.
The Yazidis are ethnically Kurdish, and part of their religious beliefs include precepts of both Islam and Christianity. Their religious doctrine says both parents must be Yazidi in order for a child to be recognized by the community.
“I believe it’s not right. The women and children need help and support,” Ahmed Burjus, the London-based deputy director for Yazda, the Global Yazidi Organization, and a member of the Yazidi community himself, told The Media Line. “There is no need to talk about religion. We need to talk about humanity.”
Traditionally, marrying someone who is not Yazidi has meant women were forced to leave the community. The council made an exception for those forced into marriage by ISIS.
The recent announcement was a dramatic change from the week before.
Alexandra Saieh, an advocacy manager at the Norwegian Refugee Council, explained to The Media Line that the Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council had announced last week that it would allow “all survivors” back into the community. This weekend, it amended the decision to exclude the children of rape victims.
Thus, women raped and impregnated by ISIS fighters are faced with yet another trauma.
“This means that these women will have to choose between returning to their communities or keeping their children. No matter what, the consequences are dire,” Saieh told The Media Line. “Some women have been forced to give their children up for adoption; others have not been able to return to their communities.”
Burjus notes that the issue is complex and divisive within the community because it speaks to the trauma the Yazidis experienced.
“Some Yazidis think: ‘They can’t raise anyone who is a child of a Daesh [ISIS] fighter.’ When they see the children, they will be reminded of [the] genocide,” he said.
Burjus also likens some community members’ opposition to accepting the children to the way some countries feel about the children of women who voluntarily joined ISIS.
“They think that some of those children will link up with their father when they grow up and partake in terrorist activities,” he said.
Children not accepted by the community are not guaranteed recognition in broader Iraq, where the law dictates that the child inherits the religion and ethnic group of the father. Some children might not be able to provide proof of paternity by their father, which would make them ineligible for citizenship and render them stateless.
“We hope the country will accept the children as refugees, and we hope that our community will accept them,” he said.
Burjus contends that the best outcome for the women who decide to keep their children is to seek asylum elsewhere.
“We believe that the best way to help these women is for other countries to accept them as refugees,” he said.
“Everyone has turned their backs on these women and children,” she said, “leaving them with almost no options here in Iraq.”
(Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Studies)