Iraq News
Human Rights

Iraq left to care for ISIS fighters' children

By Alaa Hussein in Baghdad

Iraqi forces discovered this Chechen girl in Mosul during the operation to oust the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' from the city. [Photo courtesy of the Iraqi War Media Cell]

Iraqi forces discovered this Chechen girl in Mosul during the operation to oust the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' from the city. [Photo courtesy of the Iraqi War Media Cell]

After Iraqi forces ousted the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) from Mosul, the human tragedy was laid to bare for all to see, with abandoned or orphaned children of the group's foreign fighters left to fend for themselves.

Iraqi forces have found around 12 foreign children roaming the city's streets alone so far, most of whom appear to be of Asian parentage and know nothing about the fate of their parents, an Iraqi official said.

The discovery of these children, most of whom do not speak Arabic, has presented an unprecedented challenge for the Iraqi government.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has transported the children to orphanages in Baghdad until they can be repatriated to their countries of origin and handed over to their relatives, once they have been properly identified.

The children are of different nationalities and include Chechens, Afghans, Tajiks and Chinese, ministry spokesman Ammar Munim told Diyaruna.

Based on a court order from the Juvenile Court in Iraq, the government has taken these children into its protection and will house them in orphanages until they are identified and handed over to their countries of origin, he said.

Identifying ISIS children

"Several children were identified by chance during a television report on the situation in Iraq that was aired on a foreign channel," Munim said.

The relatives of a Chechen child who had gone missing recognised him from the TV footage, he said, which prompted the government of Chechnya to formally request his repatriation and that of others in a similar situation.

Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Mohammed Shaya al-Soudani has made it clear that these children are considered to be victims of their terrorist families.

Talks between the two countries have already led to the handover of five Chechen children who had been placed in Iraqi orphanages to their government after they were identified by their relatives, an effort that was being co-ordinated by the Iraq Crisis Cell.

The ministry is working with UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to care for the foreign children who were found in Mosul, said Abeer Chalabi, head of the ministry's Women and Child Welfare Authority.

"The authority has been providing these children with first aid and care to help them deal with the trauma that has befallen them, before they are placed in government shelters for children," she told Diyaruna.

The ministry is working on handing over identified children to their families and countries, she said, adding that children who have no official identity documents will be considered to be of unknown kinship under Iraqi law.

"Legal procedures in such cases require showing their faces on mass media and official circulars and then waiting for a year," she explained. If no one can identify them within this period, they are issued new identity documents by the ministry.

An international crisis

"The ISIS children found in Mosul are only a small part of the problem," Iraqi sociologist Mohammed Abdul Hassan told Diyaruna, noting that the broader issue is that children are being born to terrorists everywhere.

Reflecting on the fate of these children, he wondered: "Should they be taken in by the Iraqi government and looked after in orphanages so they can be rehabilitated and made into Iraqi citizens, or should they be returned to their countries of origin and risk becoming ticking time bombs?"

This is an issue that requires an informed societal outlook and a responsible government approach, he said, adding that Iraq must engage UN help to find a reasonable solution that takes into consideration the humanitarian angle.

"A child who is born to terrorist parents, under these circumstances, will undoubtedly have a bleak future," Abdul Hassan said.

If human rights and the accepted child-rearing practices are not adhered to, that child may grow up to become a future terrorist, he said.

Abdul Hassan called for a solution that takes into account the root cause of the problem, "so that we are not shocked to see children as casualties on battle grounds".

He saw a role for UN agencies in crafting educational resources worldwide that will quell the influence of extremist ideologies and promote moderation.

According to his assessment of the situation, Iraq is properly qualified to undertake the task of putting in place rehabilitation programmes for children in collaboration with civil society organisations.

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