BEIRUT: The first Yazidi girls and women began escaping Daesh-held territory in late 2014, over three months after the invasion of Sinjar on August 3 earlier that year.
They all returned as survivors of torturous sexual enslavement. Some spoke of the forced abortions that had been prescribed on their own bodies. Others came back pregnant. In all cases, while they were no longer held hostage by the most un-Islamic of militants, they were now captives of their own trauma and inescapable experiences.
We know, after reviewing the so-called theological tenets of Daesh decrees that Sinjar was not just an invasion. It was the first step to the systemic extermination of Yazidi identity and community existence. And these Yazidi girls and women who had been able to escape, back when Daesh-held territory was not yet fortified, were speaking to us about how the militants were bringing their perverted ideologies to life. Daesh believed that they could destroy identity by laying hands on and claiming the bodies of women and girls. They were convinced that even with women escaping, their return to their families would be met with rejection and ejection from the Yazidi community. Or so they thought.
Instead, the Yazidi people embraced the return of their girls and women, doing all possible to ensure they were welcomed back. Until today, my Yazidi friends who founded the remarkable global advocacy force, Yazda, are still investigating the whereabouts of over 3,000 Yazidi girls and women. It is believed they are still being held by Daesh militants. The silent pulse of genocide is quite loud when you put your ear to it.
Some of the enslaved girls and women who did escape in 2014 and onwards came back pregnant, and have since born children. Children to Daesh militants who had no care for kith, kin, or pedigree; they were never going to be fathers to them. We know this because there was a strict birth control regiment under Daesh regulations. We have one too many case reports of women impregnated multiple times whilst in captivity. Many were forced to give up their fetus – some more than once – because it negatively affected the return on investment of their “owners” in the Daesh sexual slavery market. A pregnant woman meant she was less profitable, and that made no business sense to marauding profiteers.
Where are the children today? Some of these children have been taken in by the Yazidi families of their mothers. Some have not. When the Yazidi Spiritual Council released their first decree on April 24 stating that all family members of returning women and girls would be welcomed, the decree was met with mixed feelings amongst the community. Some ferociously opposed the decree, while others welcomed its inclusivity. The Council on April 27 issued a clarification, saying their earlier statement did not include the children born in captivity to Yazidi mothers.
It would be overly simplistic to interpret this decision by the community’s faith leadership as right or wrong. The matter is troubled and deeply complex. The plight of these children needs to be navigated, not just with the mindset of the Yazidi faith or the rights of the child, but also with a lens of national and international law, community sustainability and re-development, and genocide.
We also need to make some red lines clear. What is absolutely inadmissible is for these children to not be given a serious chance at a life worth living. What is as not allowed is letting genocide take on new heights, by enabling Daesh to render a final blow of permanent collateral damage on the Yazidi community and polarizing community members away from each other after standing by each other for so long.
Can we accept that these fatherless, and increasingly motherless, children are the pinnacle of the Daesh genocide against the Yazidi people? Never. These children deserve a global family, because it is not just the Yazidi community, its spiritual leadership, and the affected families who need to figure out this complexity alone.
It is time to stop assuming and expecting that the Yazidi people can and should rebuild their community by themselves starting from the shaky grounds of IDP camps and globally displaced families. These children are echoing this lesson loud and clear.
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