Author: Bethan McKernan Beirut
Date: Monday 7 November 2016
Approximately one million children living under Isis in Iraq have been forced to learn from an extremist curriculum that teaches how to make bombs and cut off heads or else been kept home from school by parents afraid their children will be recruited as fighters, estimates say.
Thousands of people are fleeing Isis-held territory in and around the city of Mosul, bringing with them stories of horrific abuses in the so-called caliphate – but even as their villages are cleared of militants as the three-week-old US-backed offensive presses on, many families are worried about the long term effects two years of Isis will have had on their children.
The number of displaced people has doubled over the weekend to 34,000 as fighting reached Mosul’s built-up suburbs, the International Organisation for Migration says. Between 200,000 – 700,000 people in total are expected to flee their homes as the Iraqi coalition pushes deeper into the heart of the city, Iraq’s second largest and home to two million people before Isis took over in 2014.
Parents now based at Jad’ah, a camp for displaced people south of the city, have expressed their frustration that their families’ futures have been so drastically altered. Karim, a father of four, said his kids lived in fear of being recruited to fight like their classmates.
“It’s difficult for my girls, they were very scared, crying all the time, shaking… I want my children to get educated, and get a job. The most important thing for them is to read and to write.”
While the girls were no longer allowed to get an education, he was under pressure to send his sons to school, which he resisted, Karim told Save the Children.
“Some children told me that Isis used to take them to their base for 40 days to train them and to tell them that it’s halal [permissible] to kill army people,” he said.
“They used to take about 50-100 children for each programme. A lot of children obeyed Isis and then they were killed in fighting.”
Children living under Isis’ rule are regularly forced to watch gory propaganda videos and guides on killing and making bombs, father of five Hamid said.
“We told them… you should not believe it. This is not the right Islam. We were guiding our children to make sure they didn’t believe everything they were taught.”
Hamid and Karim’s families are lucky – they are now back in school at Jad’ah, where temporary classrooms are easing children back into learning before they attempt to pick up the national curriculum again.
Getting children back into a positive school environment was “critical to starting the recovery process and giving them hope for their future,” Save the Children’s Iraq country director Maurizio Crivellaro said.
“As soon as we set the classrooms up, [children] were already gathering outside and peering in curiously. Judging by the big smiles on their faces, they knew this is how school should be and they were excited to get back to normal.”
Up to 1.5million people are thought to still be trapped in Mosul, where Isis has used a favourite tactic – shepherding civilians into strategic buildings and areas – for use as human shields.
The UN’s humanitarian agency and several other aid organisations have called on the Iraqi army to ensure safe corridors are set up to allow residents to escape what is likely to be a long and bloody fight.