Iraqi Yazidi children kidnapped by Islamic State six years ago remain deeply traumatised by their ordeal, Amnesty International has said.
In a 57-page report, Legacy of Terror, The Plight of Yezidi Child Survivors of Isis, Amnesty says nearly 2,000 Yazidi children suffered indoctrination, rape, torture, starvation, and slavery at the hands of the terror group.
Boys were forced to serve as child soldiers and girls to “marry” Islamic State fighters. Children were denied schooling and compelled to abandon their Yazidi faith by adopting Islam, and to speak Arabic rather than their native Kurdish.
The UN has branded as genocide Islamic State’s seizure and treatment of Iraq’s ethnic Kurdish Yazidis, who practice an ancient monotheistic religion.
The massacre of Yazidis by Islamic State, also known as Isis, began in early August 2014 in villages in the Sinjar district of north-western Iraq. In response 50,000 Yazidis fled into the Sinjar mountains where they were besieged without food or water.
While Turkish Kurdish fighters attempted to counter the Islamic State offensive, Iraqi army helicopters dropped supplies to the Yazidis. Then US president Barack Obama ordered air-strikes on Islamic State fighters. Safe corridors were established by Turkish and Syrian Kurdish fighters, who escorted the Yazidis to Syria.
Some 10,000 Yazidi men and boys were murdered and 7,000 women and girls abducted. More than 70 mass graves have been found in the region.
“Many child survivors have returned from [Islamic State] captivity with debilitating long-term injuries, illnesses or physical impairments. The most common mental health conditions experienced by these children include post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression. Symptoms and behaviours often displayed include aggression, flashbacks, nightmares, withdrawal from social situations, and severe mood swings,” the Amnesty report states.
"Survivors of horrific crimes, these children now face a legacy of terror. Their physical and mental health must be a priority in the years ahead if they are to fully reintegrate into their families and community," said Amnesty's response deputy director Matt Wells.
He urged the Iraqi government and international community to provide the children with the “support they desperately need to rebuild their lives as part of the Yazidi community’s future”.
The report says that former Isis child soldiers returned to their Yazidi families are often forced to endure an isolated existence.
“Many find that their families are not willing to acknowledge what they have experienced in captivity or even deny it altogether.”.
Children fathered by Islamic State members have "largely been denied a place in the Yazidi community", it adds, due to rejection by the Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council on the basis that they do not have two Yazidi parents.
Furthermore, Iraqi law “mandates that a child of an ‘unknown’ or Muslim father must be registered as Muslim,” Amnesty reports.
Some women have been forced to abandon their children in order to return to their families; some have chosen to keep their children and live apart from their community; a few have threatened suicide.
“These women were enslaved, tortured and subjected to sexual violence,” Mr Wells said. “They should not suffer any further punishment.”
He called for mothers and children to remain together, future separations to be prevented, and opportunities for international resettlement provided.
Although 350,000 Yazidis live in camps for the displaced in northern Iraq, they cannot return to their villages. Iraqi militiamen and Islamic State fighters continue to clash and Turkish war planes bomb Kurdish positions.