Yazidi women who were kidnapped and raped by "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) fighters and bore their children are now facing another ordeal.
These mothers -- Yazidi women from Iraq's Sinjar district who were brought to Syria after they were abducted -- are now being forced to abandon their children in Syria in order to return to their homeland and families.
This is because the Yazidis will not accept children fathered by non-members of the sect into the community.
Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council head Hazem Tahsin Said in April issued what appeared to be a landmark shift, with an order "accepting all survivors (of ISIS crimes) and considering what they went through to have been against their will".
This was hailed as "historic" by Yazidi activists, who understood it to mean that children born of rape would be allowed to live among their Yazidi relatives, AFP reported.
But on April 27th, the council published a clarification that the decision "does not include children born of rape, but refers to children born of two Yazidi parents".
The Yazidi community have long considered any women marrying outside the sect to be Yazidi no longer, initially including those assaulted by ISIS in 2014.
But Yazidi spiritual leader Baba Sheikh issued a decision the following year welcoming those women back home, without resolving the fate of their children.
To complicate matters further, Iraqi law requires that a child born to a Muslim father be registered as Muslim, regardless of the mother’s’ sect -- a ruling that is highly controversial with the Yazidi community.
Iraqi President Barham Saleh in April proposed a bill to parliament that would provide reparations for Yazidi female survivors of ISIS crimes and establish a court to clarify "civil status" issues such as this.
Appropriate legislation lacking
The Iraqi civil status law and national identity card law "consider every child whose father is unknown or is a Muslim to be Muslim", said Iraqi MP Saib Khadar, who represents the Yazidi community in parliament.
This "means by law all the children born to raped Yazidi women will be registered as Muslim", he told Diyaruna.
This already presents a huge problem to Iraq's religious minorities, including Christians and Sabians, who must accept the classification of their children as Muslims if circumstances prevent the identification of the father, he said.
In attempting to address the humanitarian issue of the fate of children born to Yazidi victims of rape, "we run into a legal dilemma, which leads to a clash between humanitarian and legal issues", he said.
Department of Yazidi Affairs in Iraq director general Shirwan Muawiya told Diyaruna the crisis is "immense and it is necessary that international and humanitarian organisations intervene to solve the problem".
The dilemma is that the Yazidis will not accept any child who is not born to Yazidi parents, he said, while at the same time the law requires these children to be registered as Muslims.
Iraqi law guarantees rights
Even though they are in a kind of legal limbo, these children still have rights, according to Fadel al-Gharawi, who serves on Iraq's Independent High Commission for Human Rights.
The Iraqi state is "taking in these children and granting them citizenship and all their legal rights as Iraqi citizens, regardless of their sectarian affiliation", he told Diyaruna.
"Iraqi laws grant citizenship as a blood right, so the raped [Yazidi] women can go to the relevant state departments to prove their children's parentage so that they can be granted Iraqi citizenship," he said.
These children will be granted their full legal rights to education, health care and other rights, the same as all other Iraqi citizens, he said, and "this is the key aspect of the case once the dispute over their sectarian affiliation is resolved".