Days after declaring it would accept “all survivors,” the Supreme Yazidi Spiritual Council in Iraq said this weekend it will not take in the children of women raped by Islamic State (IS) militants.
The recent decision has caused controversy and confusion in the Yazidi community, with some siding with the Yazidi Spiritual Council’s reversal, while others blame the clerical leadership for not being flexible in addressing the issue.
Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking religious minority, are viewed as heretics by the IS terror group. At its peak in 2014, IS fighters seized the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, where tens of thousands of Yazidis lived.
IS fighters killed scores of Yazidi men and enslaved several thousand women and girls in atrocities that amounted to genocide, according to the U.N.
Yazidi women were taken as slaves, many of whom now have children by the IS men who raped them.
The Spiritual Council, which is the highest religious authority among Yazidis, said it encourages Yazidi women survivors to return with their children, but added, “We don’t mean those born of rape.”
“What was published by media outlets is a distortion, misrepresentation of facts, and is totally against the principles and tenets of the Yazidi religion and social norms,” said a statement signed by Hazim Tahseen Said, head of the Supreme Yazidi Spiritual Council.
The Yazidi faith does not recognize marriage between Yazidis and non-Yazidis. It does not allow conversion either.
The weekend clarification came after an initial statement issued last week by the Supreme Yazidi Council itself, which was widely interpreted as an official acceptance of children born to IS fathers.
Nobel laureate and former IS captive Nadia Murad has weighed in on the debate by proposing a more moderate solution.
“I know that this is a difficult decision. This is something new and hard for our people,” Murad said Sunday in a video posted on Facebook.
“I was in contact with many women. They told me they have been rescued, but are living in camps, mountains and other countries. They are afraid to return as they have been told that their children will not be accepted,” the Yazidi activist said.
Murad added, “I believe this should be determined by the mothers of the children and their families, rather than the fact that some of us say [these women] should not bring their kids, while others say they should.”
Some activists say it’s unjustified to attack the Yazidi religious authorities for reversing their decision about the children.
“The Yazidi Spiritual Council reversed its decision because it came without a study and after knowing the consequences that might occur if it was implemented,” said Dawood Saleh, a Yazidi survivor who wrote a book on his experience during the IS onslaught on Yazidis in Sinjar.
Experts said in addition to religious and social restrictions, another reason behind the official Yazidi refusal to take in these children is a national law in Iraq that requires children born to at least one Muslim parent to be identified as Muslims.
According to Article (26) of the Iraqi national identity card law, which was adopted in 2015, a child born to one Muslim parent must be registered as a Muslim.
The article, however, does not mention rape as an exemption, and so far Iraqi authorities have made no exemption or amendment to the law.
Some experts believe world powers could use their leverage over the Iraqi government to make amendments to this law.
“Only U.S. and Western pressure on the Iraqi authorities might produce results,” said Jonathan Spyer, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.
But “there seems little interest from the Western media in this” issue, he told VOA.
Activist Saleh told VOA that it is necessary for the Yazidi community “to find a solution for those children who have become victims of the ISIS crimes.” ISIS is an acronym for the terror group.
Last month, U.S.-backed Kurdish forces declared victory over IS after defeating the group in its last stronghold in eastern Syria. But there are nearly 3,100 Yazidi women and children still missing, according to rights groups.