Dalia*, 9, in her family’s tent in a remote area of ​​the Sinjar Mountains in Iraq [Photo credit: Meethak Al Khatib/ Save the Children]

ERBIL, September 22, 2022 – Yazidi children whose lives were shattered by ISIS attacks in northern Iraq eight years ago must not be forgotten by the international community, which must help fulfill their right to education and hope for a better future, Save the Children said today.

About 400,000 Yazidis – an ethnic and religious minority – were captured, killed or forced to flee their ancestral homes in Sinjar in August 2014 after ISIS crossed the border from Syria. The United Nations has recognized the treatment of the Yazidis as genocide[1].

Up to 3,000 women and young girls have been kidnapped, suffered rape and other forms of sexual violence, and many remain missing. Boys were separated from their families and forcibly recruited for IS.

Eight years later, many Yazidi children are still displaced from their communities. Many live in unsafe environments where they are surrounded by physical reminders of ISIS violence, including destroyed homes, schools and hospitals.

To understand the impact of genocide on young children, Save the Children spoke to 117 children between the ages of 7 and 17 who were very young or infants when they lost mothers, fathers, siblings and extended family to the violence of 33 carers .

Children of all ages told Save the Children about their fears and the lack of safety and security in their daily lives. Among the youth, 39 of the 40 people involved in the study said they did not feel safe where they lived, with concerns including kidnapping, sexual violence, recruitment by armed groups and further loss or separation of family members.

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“Every day we see small children carrying guns and working with the security forces – armed groups, and they are still young, less than 18 years old,” said Khalid*, a boy aged 7 to 10, who speaks middle-class Names were said to be withheld for security reasons.

Language barriers in particular have been raised as challenges, as some children have forgotten their native Kurmanji language or were born in captivity and never learned it, making it difficult to communicate and connect with their families and reintegrate into their communities .

Mental health impacts on female survivors included post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and other serious physical and mental health consequences.

Both children and caregivers found that the services and programs available do not meet the urgent and overwhelming needs of girls and boys who have experienced sexual violence, been forcibly recruited by ISIS, or children born in captivity.

Yazidi children told researchers they wanted to learn, but eight years later they are still being denied the right to an education. For many Yazidi children, the nearest schools are empty, bombed and destroyed, and they fear having to travel too far while the lack of quality materials and textbooks, as well as understaffing, hamper their education.

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“The fear that our sons and daughters will go to distant schools for fear of kidnapping,” said caregiver Souzan*.

The lack of civil documents also prevents some Yazidi children from going to school. Many Yazidi children lost their identification documents during the genocide, while younger children may not have been registered at birth. Without these documents, children cannot access basic services such as education and health. Obtaining new documentation can be expensive and complex. Children born in captivity face even greater challenges as proof of paternity is required for registration of unmarried parents in Iraq. Otherwise, a child will be registered as a Muslim, rendering them non-Yazidi both legally and culturally, further stigmatizing them.

Rizgar Aljaff, Save the Children Acting Country Director for Iraq, said:

Yazidi children continue to live in fear of what they and their families have experienced at the hands of ISIS and what they are now experiencing in their daily lives. Their basic rights as children are still being denied. They still lack the urgent care and support they need to process and heal their trauma. Many children are still missing. If nothing changes, the genocide’s impact on Yazidi children will only worsen.”

Save the Children calls on the international community to work with the government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to establish specialized services for the reintegration of Yazidi children into their communities, to invest in quality education and infrastructure in Yazidi communities, and to ensure that Yazidi Children surviving sexual violence and recruitment can be reintegrated into the education system with psychological and psychosocial support.

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They must also take steps to ensure that Yazidi children receive justice, accountability and redress for the serious injuries, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed against them.

The children’s rights organization is also calling on the Iraqi government to ensure that all Yazidi children can obtain civilian documents for access to basic needs and rights such as education and health, and to change all relevant Iraqi laws to give mothers of children born in the war a choice to allow their children’s religion upon registration.

Save the Children has been active in Sinjar since 2017 to support returning families. We work with communities and in partnership with local groups to help people find jobs, rebuild community infrastructure and provide essential services such as health care and legal advice.

[1] The United Nations first concluded that ISIS’s treatment of the Yazidis constituted genocide in a 2016 report entitled “They Came to Destroy: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis,” submitted to the Human Rights Council in June 2016 represents.

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