Iraq in process of formally recognising ISIS children, committee for human rights says

Thousands of undocumented Iraqi children are being denied access to schooling and medical care

This photo released by Amnesty International on Tuesday, April 18, 2018 shows 33-year-old mother of six, Zahra, outside a tent used for cooking inside in Salamiya camp for internally displaced people where she and her family have lived for 7 months. Originally from Shwra, south of Mosul, she and her family moved to Mosul three years ago after her husband joined ISIS, working with the group as a cook. He was killed by an airstrike in June 2017. Amnesty says its report details the predicament of thousands of female-led families left to fend for themselves in displaced camps after male family members were killed, arbitrarily arrested or forcibly disappeared. (Claire Thomas/Amnesty International via AP)

Iraq is expected to set up courts that will permit children born to ISIS parents to obtain official documentation, granting them their basic rights, a parliamentary committee for human rights said on Monday.

The fate of thousands of undocumented children born to members of the militant group has become a significant problem for the Iraqi state.

Children born in ISIS-held areas were given identification papers by the terror group but since their so-called caliphate collapsed in 2017, the documents are now considered worthless by Baghdad.

“Courts are being set up to ensure that children born in areas that were controlled by ISIS will be legally registered with the state using forms of proof such as eye witnesses,” Wehda Al Jumaili, a member of the committee, told a Russian news outlet.

“The process will be easier if their parents are still alive,” she said, adding the commission, Iraqi government and the judiciary made the decision.

The Iraqi state is denying children schooling and medical care, as well as jobs and the right to marry when they grow up. International rights organisations have warned the government against such policies as it could re-ignite the grievances that boosted the groundswell of support for the group in the country before it rose in 2014.

For months, there have been ongoing discussions between the commission, parliament, human and civil rights groups about issuing formal documentation to the children, Arshad Al Salihi, the head of the committee and a member of parliament, told The National.

“The commission decided to take this issue to parliament as it requires humanitarian and international efforts,” Mr Al Salihi said.

Under Iraq’s family laws, children must have a named father to receive a birth certificate and an identity card to enable them to enroll in schools and to claim citizenship, welfare benefits and an inheritance.

Iraq has an estimated 45,000 children displaced in camps that are missing birth certificates. This number represents one in every five displaced children in camps, and 10 per cent of the 450,000 people displaced today across Iraq, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

"If passed, this legislation will allow children with missing documentation to attend schools and graduate. They will be able to receive healthcare like any other Iraqi, as well as benefit from social welfare," NRC's media coordinator in Iraq, Tom Peyre-Costa, told The National.

An entire generation of children born under ISIS rule are still not recognised by the state, Mr Costa said.

“This is why we are calling on the government of Iraq to take all measures necessary to ensure children are able to obtain legal identity and associated civil documents,” he said.

It will be critical to guaranteeing Iraq’s road to recovery and reconstruction, Mr Costa said.

Children may also be at a higher risk of recruitment by armed groups because their options to find economic support are limited and because they have fewer legal protections, spokesperson of the UN's children's agency, Unicef, Zeina Awad told The National.

“Unicef urges the Government of Iraq to adhere to the Iraqi constitution and other national laws that assure child rights. Being stateless is never in a child’s best interests,” Ms Awad said.

In line with article 18 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (which Iraq ratified 25 years ago this month), children’s development and their best interests must be taken fully into account, Ms Awad said, when devising and implementing policies and decisions that regulate their parents’ access to social rights, regardless of the parent’s migration status.

“Measures should be taken to guarantee these rights and to assure that these women and children receive the services they need, with consideration of their full inclusion with society,” she said.

The European Union echoed Unicef’s concerns by stating that the children are at risk of becoming “the next generation of suicide bombers”.

“The is a ticking time bomb,” Gilles de Kerchove, the EU’s counter terrorism coordinator, said.