Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 October 2020

Iraq: 45,000 suspected ISIS children face a stateless future

The Iraqi government must provide children with official documents to avoid further conflict, NRC says

A child walks carrying covers on his back past members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after leaving ISIS's last holdout of Baghouz, in the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province on March 1, 2019. AFP
A child walks carrying covers on his back past members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after leaving ISIS's last holdout of Baghouz, in the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province on March 1, 2019. AFP

Thousands of displaced children with suspected ties to ISIS are missing civil documentation and face the possibility of becoming stateless in Iraq, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said on Tuesday.

ISIS seized large areas in Syria and Iraq in 2014 and carried out mass killings, torture and sexual enslavement, resulting in thousands of women giving birth after being raped by their captors.

Although Iraq declared victory over the insurgents in 2017, it now faces the prospect of about 45,000 displaced children in camps that may be denied of their basic rights, NRC said.

“We face a possible human time bomb. Allowing these children to have an education, health care, simply the right to exist, is key to ensuring a sustainable future for them and for the country,” said Jan Egeland, NRC's Secretary General.

“A society cannot be at peace if it allows a generation of stateless children in its midst,” he added.

The council has predicted that an estimated 870,000 Iraqi children today remain displaced, thousands of whom were born under ISIS rule.

The Barriers from Birth report found that children born under ISIS rule were issued birth certificates by the group that the Iraqi government considers invalid.

“Without a valid birth certificate, one health official reported that new-borns are unable to receive vaccinations in some areas, raising fears of new diseases. Children’s enrolment in Iraqi schools also requires identification cards,” said the report.

As these children reach adulthood, they risk having the right to state-recognised marriages, owning property or even being formally employed, the report said.

“Undocumented children risk remaining left on the margins of society if this issue is not addressed immediately. This seriously undermines future prospects of reconciliation efforts,” Mr Egeland said.

The chance of obtaining civil documentation is nearly impossible for children from families accused of ISIS ties.

Iraqi women with either missing or dead husbands face harsh processes of proving the circumstances of the death and proof of marriage to have the necessary paperwork issued.

“Children are not responsible for crimes committed by their relatives, yet many are denied their basic rights as Iraqi citizens,” said Mr Egeland.

The council warned that the number of undocumented children will increase significantly in the coming weeks with the expected return of more than 30,000 Iraqis from Syria, 90 per cent of whom are wives and children with suspected ties to ISIS fighters.

“We urge the government to ensure that undocumented children have the right to exist like any other Iraqi citizen,” Mr Egeland said.

As Iraq's government and international community are investing to rebuild war-torn areas, these children will require official documents to fit into society.

“This will guarantee Iraq’s road to recovery and reconstruction," the NRC said.

Updated: April 30, 2019 02:14 PM

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