Iraq treats children affected by ISIS violence
By Khalid al-Taie
The Iraqi government has been working to mitigate the psychological effects of "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) violence on children who lost parents to the group or witnessed its atrocities, officials told Diyaruna.
"Violence has negatively affected large numbers of children in the cities that were most hit by terrorism," Abeer Jalabi, head of the ministry's Women and Child Welfare Authority, told Diyaruna.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is currently providing psychological rehabilitation services to 80 children between the ages of 5 and 16 in the shelters it manages, she said.
Some are members of the Yazidi minority, while the identities of many others are not known, as Iraqi forces took them in as they advanced towards Mosul.
"Through a psychological rehabilitation programme, we are trying to help the children who have been most affected," she said.
Some children have not responded to the psychological support, even after several months of rehabilitation, she said, noting they "have no desire to belong to the group and prefer to be alone than sit with others".
"It is our responsibility to work harder to help them, because what these children have had to go through is not easy," she said.
Some of the children witnessed their parents being murdered by ISIS, she said.
"These painful images cannot be erased from their minds, causing them to go through bouts of depression and fear," she said, adding that these "have left an indelible imprint in their minds and how they perceive the world".
The ministry will soon receive up to 1,000 fatherless children in need of treatment, she said, whose mothers married ISIS fighters and have been detained for questioning.
"We are working on making sure we can accommodate and rehabilitate this large number of children," Jalabi said, adding that the ministry has reached out to the government and civil society organisations for support.
"We need lots of resources, programmes and highly trained staff to deal with a range of violence-related cases, and we have to expand our services so we are reaching more children," she added.
"ISIS’s barbarity affected children even more than others," said Nuha Darwish, who teaches psychology at the University of Baghdad.
The group's actions have triggered chronic fear among children who lived in the conflict zones, as well as a host of psychological illnesses, she told Diyaruna.
These children are growing up with a twisted sense of reality, and might pose a threat to society if they do not receive help, Darwish said.
The treatment of post-traumatic stress requires a large-scale plan that is incorporated into the reconstruction effort in the liberated areas, she said, noting that building a healthy society is as important as reconstruction.
A healthy childhood is of paramount importance for a healthy and mature generation, said Mosul activist Israa al-Obaidi, who works for the United Organisation for Human Rights, a non-governmental organisation (NGO).
"All of us, government and organisations alike, must work together to address the impact of terrorism on children," she told Diyaruna.
"This is not an easy undertaking and requires lots of effort and years of monitoring and treatment, during which affected children undergo psychiatric rehabilitation at the hands of experts," she said.
Children of rape pose challenge
Another challenge for the government, and the Iraqi society, rests in the fate of children born of rape or forced marriage to an ISIS element.
"Those children are being taken care of, without any discrimination, at orphanages or refugee camps" in Iraq, said Layla al-Barzanji, Iraqi MP and human rights activist from Ninawa province who works closely with such children.
However, they "lack motherly affection because their mothers abandoned them, either willingly or due to social pressure", she told Diyaruna.
Al-Barzanji told the story of a Yazidi woman who had to give up her baby -- born to an ISIS fighter -- and leave him in an orphanage because she could not raise him in her local community where "he would not be accepted", the woman said.
There is still no official data on children under four years of age born from rape or forced marriage to extremists, as not all of them live in orphanages.
The liberating forces also took in children whose both parents were affiliated with ISIS, and others whose identities remain unknown.
All of these children are without official identification documents, al-Barzanji said, making them unable to obtain their full rights as citizens, and thus, alienating them from society.
This will significantly affect their upbringing and future, she said.
Al-Barzanji urged for a collaborative effort between the government and civil society organisations to create a comprehensive, long-term plan for the psychological rehabilitation of victims of rape and to raise social awareness about their plight.
The plan should also focus on easing the procedures of adopting orphaned children, to make the process less complicated, she said.