Yazidi children freed by ISIS haunted by their trauma, says Amnesty

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Nearly 2,000 Yazidi children freed from the grips of ISIS in recent years are still trapped by psychological and physical trauma, Amnesty International warned on Thursday.

In a new report based on dozens of interviews in northern Iraq, the rights group found that 1,992 children who faced torture, forced conscription, rape and other abuses at the hands of ISIS were not getting the care they need.

"While the nightmare of their past has receded, hardships remain for these children," said Matt Wells, deputy director of Amnesty's crisis response team.

The Yazidis are an ethno-religious minority numbering around 550,000 in their heartland of northwest Iraq before IS swept through the rugged region in 2014.

Slamming the Yazidis as heretics, ISIS slaughtered thousands of men, abducted women and girls and forced boys to fight on its behalf.

Yazidi children were forcibly converted to Islam and taught Arabic, banned from speaking their native Kurdish.

Yazidi health volunteers are greeted by HRH Prince Charles ©2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved

Members of the Yazidi Choir performing at the Houses of Parliament in London during their tour of the United Kingdom. Stephen Lock for the National

Members of the Yazidi Choir performing at the Houses of Parliament in London during their tour of the United Kingdom. Stephen Lock for the National

Members of the Yazidi Choir performing at the Houses of Parliament in London during their tour of the United Kingdom. Stephen Lock for the National

Members of the Yazidi Choir on the terrace of the Houses of Parliament in London before their performance for UK politicians and their guests, during their tour of the United Kingdom. Stephen Lock for the National

Yazidi choir is made up of 14 girls from refugee camps in northern Iraq. Stephen Lock for the National

An Iraqi Yazidi woman visits the Temple of Lalish, in a valley near the Kurdish city of Dohuk, about 430km northwest of the Iraqi capital Baghdad. AFP

Iman Abbas, an 18-year-old Yazidi woman dressed in a traditional outfit, is pictured inside a tent at the Shaira camp for displaced people in the Simele district of the Dohuk governorate in northern Iraq. AFP

Iraq's Yazidi Jihan Qassem, 18, smiles as she talks to a AFP reporter at a makeshift house in an area housing many displaced people on the outskirts of the northwestern Iraqi town of Baadre. AFP

Young Yazidi and Muslim women, part of the musical group "40 Plaits," rehearse a traditional Kurdish song accompanied by the Daf, a large Kurdish frame drum, in a community centre in Dahuk, about 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of the Iraqi capital Baghdad. AFP

Young Yazidi and Muslim women, part of the musical group "40 Plaits," rehearse a traditional Kurdish song accompanied by the Daf, a large Kurdish frame drum, in a community centre in Dahuk, about 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of the Iraqi capital Baghdad. AFP

Iraqi Yezidi women hold placards with pictures of victims of the 2014 invasion of their region by the Islamic State (IS) group, a day ahead of commemorations at the Temple of Lalish, in a valley near the Kurdish city of Dohuk, about 430km northwest of the Iraqi capital Baghdad. AFP

Iraqi Yazidis dance to traditional music at the Temple of Lalish, in a valley near the Kurdish city of Dohuk, about 430km northwest of the Iraqi capital Baghdad. AFP

A woman sits on a futon next to a baby cradle inside a tent shelter at a camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) of Iraq's Yazidi minority in the Sharya area, some 15 kilometres from the northern city of Dohuk in the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region. AFP

Men sit togther on a futon outside a shelter at a camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) of Iraq's Yazidi minority in the Sharya area, some 15 kilometres from the northern city of Dohuk in the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region. AFP

To this day, child survivors suffer "debilitating long-term injuries," as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, mood wings, aggression and flashbacks.

Yazidi children interviewed by AFP last year in a displacement camp in the northwest district of Duhok played aggressively, wore all black and spoke Arabic to each other, even months after they were freed from ISIS.

One of them, a ten-year-old girl, had threatened to commit suicide multiple times, her mother told AFP.

Sahir, a 15-year-old former ISIS child soldier, told Amnesty that he knew he needed mental support to cope with his trauma but felt he had nowhere to turn.

"What I was looking for is just someone to care about me, some support, to tell me, 'I am here for you'," he said.

"This is what I have been looking for, and I have never found it."

Amnesty said access to education could help ease children back into society, but tens of thousands of Yazidis still live in displacement camps where schooling is irregular.

Many have also gone into debt from paying thousands of US dollars to smugglers to free Yazidi relatives who were held by ISIS.

Yazidi mothers forcibly wed to ISIS fighters are struggling to heal their own psychological scars, while dealing with the stigma of having children born to jihadist fathers.

"I want to tell (our community) and everyone in the world, please accept us, and accept our children ... I didn't want to have a baby from these people. I was forced to have a son," said 22-year-old Janan.

Many Yazidi women who were rescued from ISIS' last bastion in Syria over the last two years were forced to leave their ISIS-born children behind when they returned to their families in neighbouring Iraq.

"We have all thought about killing ourselves, or tried to do it," said Hanan, a 24-year-old Yazidi whose daughter was taken from her.

Mothers must be reunited with their children and no further separation should take place, Amnesty said.

"These women were enslaved, tortured and subjected to sexual violence. They should not suffer any further punishment," said Mr Wells.

Updated: July 30, 2020 04:00 PM

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