Yazidi child survivors of IS face extreme physical and mental health crisis

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Nearly 2,000 Yazidi children who were former captive of the Islamic State (IS) are facing physical and mental health crisis, says a new report by Amnesty International published on Thursday.

The 57-page report titled ‘Legacy of Terror: The Plight of Yazidi Child Survivors of ISIS’, reveals that IS committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and what the UN describes as genocide against the Yazidi community in Iraq, between 2014 and 2017.

Extensive challenges are now faced by the estimated 1,992 children who have returned to their families after being abducted, tortured, forced to fight, raped and subjected to numerous other horrendous human rights abuses by IS, the report says.

Many of the Yazidi women have been forced to separate from their children due to religious and societal pressures and are in a state of severe mental anguish, the report says, addressing the urgent need to end the enforced separation of women and their children born of sexual violence by IS members.

“While the nightmare of their past has receded, hardships remain for these children. After enduring the horrors of war at an extremely young age, they now need urgent support from the national authorities in Iraq and the international community to build their future,” said Matt Wells, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Deputy Director – Thematic Issues.

“Survivors of horrific crimes, these children now face a legacy of terror. Their physical and mental health must be a priority in the years ahead if they are to fully reintegrate into their families and community.”

Many child survivors have returned from IS captivity with debilitating long-term injuries, illnesses or physical impairments.

The most common mental health conditions experienced by these children include post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression. Symptoms and behaviours often displayed include aggression, flashbacks, nightmares, withdrawal from social situations, and severe mood swings.

Humanitarian workers, mental health professionals and caregivers told Amnesty International about particular challenges for two groups of child survivors: former child soldiers, and girls subjected to sexual violence.

Thousands of Yazidi boys captured by IS were starved, tortured and forced to fight. As a result, these former child soldiers are especially likely to suffer from serious health conditions or physical disabilities, such as lost arms or legs.

Yazidi boys are often isolated upon their return, as their families and communities struggle to acknowledge their experiences during captivity. They have often been subjected to intense propaganda, indoctrination and military training, deliberately intended to erase their former identities, language, and names.

Of the 14 former child soldiers interviewed, more than half told Amnesty International they had not received any form of support – whether psychosocial, health, financial, or otherwise – after their return.

Yazidi girls suffered a wide range of abuses in IS captivity, including sexual violence. Girl survivors of sexual violence suffer from a range of health issues, including traumatic fistulas, scarring, and difficulties conceiving or carrying a child to term.

One doctor, whose organization has provided medical and psychosocial care for hundreds of women and girl survivors, said that almost every girl she had treated between the ages of nine and 17 had been raped or subjected to other sexual violence.

Amnesty International found that existing services and programmes for survivors of sexual violence have largely neglected girls.

“These children were systematically subjected to the horror of life under IS, and now they’ve been left to pick up the pieces. They must be given the support they desperately need to rebuild their lives as part of the Yazidi community’s future,” said Matt Wells. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)

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