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The Factory: Their Fathers Are Rapists, but “not Apostates”: Children of Raped Yazidi Women Coerced to Become Muslims

Hazem El Amin- Alia Ibrahim- Baz Ali Bikari
April 29, 2019
When this group of Yazidi mothers were liberated, they crossed from Syria to Iraq, along with their 40 children. The Sunni religious authorities in Baghdad insist the kids must be registered as Muslims, because their fathers were.

Never mind that the fathers were Isis militants who captured and raped the mothers, and who have now either been killed or disappeared after the defeat of the terrorist organization in Al-Baghus…

The Yazidi clans in turn reject these children for being “Muslims” and would only accept the mothers’ return to Sinjar if they leave the children behind. The humanitarian institutions’ proposal that children be registered as Yazidis, given the fact that their fathers were anonymous rapists, hits up against a wall of refusal from the Sunni authorities who are adamant that, as long as the father is Muslim- criminal or not- the child is Muslim, too. 

This crisis may yet be the epitome of the tragedy of sexual enslavement of Yazidi women, which unraveled during the rise of Isis. The mothers and their 40 children are far from being the only ones. Hundreds of Yazidi mothers, with children fathered by rapists, have been freed, but are now reluctant to go home because the fate of their children is uncertain. The stories they heard from the women who returned before them are not encouraging. 

In an interview with Daraj, the President of Iraq Barham Salih empathizes with the Yazidi women. They are the embodiment of injustice, he says. But he sees no solution for their predicament in the near future. His statement reflects the difficulty of calling into question the Sunni establishment’s decision to make the children Muslims. Under the tyranny of the religious powers, not even Saleh, the head of the state, Iraq’s symbol, is able to address the issue.  

According to Hassou Hormi, a Yazidi activist and author of the book Isis and Its Recruitment of Yazidi Children, more than 6,500 Yazidis were captured by Isis after the occupation of Sinjar. Today, there remain 3,086, mostly children whose fate is still unknown. 

Like many tragic events that followed the rise of the terrorist organization and its expansion across the cities of Iraq and Syria, the Yazidis’ stories are shrouded in secrecy. What began as rape and sexual slavery later engendered a new reality that spanned four years, during which many Yazidi women have actually been radicalized themselves. When their children reached puberty, they were enlisted by the caliphate’s army and fought in its ranks. Some women refuse to return to their “infidel” families, and throw apostasy and blasphemy accusations at whoever tries to persuade them to come home. At the same time, an Iraqi security official points to yet another dilemma for these women: since they had converted to Islam after their abduction, they are now classified as apostates and therefore, as the Iraqi law also stipulates, should be killed. It is a very thorny challenge, given the powerful and influential religious entities prevailing in this land of sharp sectarian divides.

Nor is there a previous experience to draw upon in dealing with this phenomenon. Kidnapping women, forcing them to convert to another religion, abandon their husbands, and then inculcating into their children hostile beliefs against their community of origin, all that is unprecedented in modern history. 

Hanaa Edward of the “Hope Foundation” in Baghdad, explains that a number of Yazidi teenagers came out of Al-Baghuz so charged with belligerent beliefs that they repudiated their own parents. Those were just children when their mothers were taken into captivity. The office of Yazidi Affairs in the Kurdistan government estimates at 1200 the number of Yazidi children, aged 7 to 17, who were trained by Isis. And while 875 boys and 960 girls have been rescued, 200 other children died, some murdered, others starved, during the Mount Sinjar tragedy. Add to those the 2,745 orphans that the battle created. 

In many cases, the families of those Isis militants who raped the mothers and who later died in battle, are claiming custody of the grandchildren. In one such case, a Yazidi activist told Daraj, the grandparents succeeded in flying the child to Saudi Arabia. Three similar cases, where the Isis fathers hail from Turkey, are presently being fought in Turkish courts where the grandparents filed a lawsuit. The courts are conducting DNA tests and considering granting custody to the grandparents. All this is taking place while many Yazidi families refuse to help the mothers keep their children. 

It is also a fact that the stories of the children who were born from rapist, non-Yazidi fathers, are left out of the narrative Yazidis recount of their tragic recent history.

Despite Isis’s defeat in Sinjar, Faisal Reffo still lives in Duhok, Kurdistan. He fled here when Isis invaded his hometown and captured 100 men, women and children of his own family. After the battle of Al-Baghus, 40 family members have been released, 10 of them children. Faisal told Daraj that Isis “separated the children from their mothers and taught them about Islam. When they reached 12, the organization enlisted them to fight. Two of our own children who were brainwashed were killed fighting in the battle of Al-Baghuz. The others who came back speak to us in Arabic. They see us as infidels. They think we should be killed”. Faisal continues, “we managed to repatriate some of our children from Turkey. But in three cases we failed, despite the DNA tests being on our side. They are our children, but now they live with the selfsame families who were the cause of our troubles, and whom no one is holding accountable.” 

Activists possess information about Isis families who, after the organization’s defeat, smuggled the children to their countries of origin, like Turkey, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The number of missing children is estimated at 800. 

“We are working with several entities to have the remaining hostages released,” said Mayser al-Adani, a spokesman for the Kidnapped Yazidis’ Rescue Office, “but we are having a hard time because the missing children are scattered across several areas with Isis families. Some families deny the children are Yazidis. The Iraqi government should start a DNA testing program.”

Some believe only countries that recognize the religion of the mother will be able to integrate the children born from Isis rapists

As for the Yazidi children who returned home, their families lament their psychological state, and their difficult reintegration into the Yazidi environment. “When Bevan was first released, he talked and behaved like an Isis militant,” says Maher Hassan, 10-year-old Bevan’s father, “he treated us as infidels, forgot his original language and spoke to us in Arabic.”

It is also a fact that the stories of the children who were born from rapist, non-Yazidi fathers, are left out of the narrative Yazidis recount of their tragic recent history. These children’s tragedy is encountered by silence across the board, from activists, politicians and families. This speaks to the extent of suffering experienced by the mothers. Their children are hardly present in Yazidi consciousness. Hardly anyone demands justice for them. The mothers are themselves quiet about the tragedy, the quiet of the rape victim who is too traumatized to tell what happened. Mothers are thus left on their own to face the unknown fate awaiting their children, amidst legal and social complications that remain so far without a solution.

And then you have the reality of Arab tribes living in Mount Singar who took part in the atrocities inflicted on the Yazidis. Their vicinity is creating a feeling of tremendous insecurity, not to mention the Yazidis’ desire for retaliation and taking justice into their own hands, in the absence of a clear plan to determine collective and individual responsibilities for what happened to this minority. Until today, three years after their hometown has been liberated from Isis, most Yazidis have not returned to Mount Sinjar. Tens of thousands sought asylum and are now living in Western countries. 

Some believe only countries that recognize the religion of the mother will be able to integrate the children born from Isis rapists. But Hanaa Edward says these children cannot travel in the first place. They do not have passports as they are not recognized by the Iraqi state as Iraqis. And although Iraqi law allows the mother to give citizenship to her children, Islam considers them Muslims like their fathers, even when the latter are rapists.

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