When I first spoke to Sahir last year, he was living in a camp for displaced people in northern Iraq.
He told me how he was abducted from his family in Iraq by IS when he was only 15 years old. After months of military training and countless hours of propaganda, ISIL forced him to fight in Syria, where he suffered serious injuries. He was taken to a hospital to recover, and from there he finally managed to escape IS.
But almost three years after his return to Iraq, he still feels depressed. Like many of the estimated 2,000 Yazidi children estimated to have survived IS captivity, whose situation Amnesty International documented last year, they had received no help since their return.
“What I’ve been looking for is just someone to take care of me, some support,” he said. “Someone who puts their hands on my shoulders and says everything will be fine.”
When I spoke to him again recently, he told me that he is still trapped in the camp – he is still waiting, still fighting and still unsupported.
However, for survivors like Sahir, the potential for change is emerging.
On March 1, 2021, the Iraqi Parliament passed the Yezidi Survivors Act, which provides a reparation framework for survivors of ISIL crimes. Those eligible include women and girls who have been subjected to sexual violence and survivors of children abducted before the age of 18.
Although the law is aimed at the Yezidi community, it also includes survivors of Christian, Turkmen, and Shabak minorities. The law provides, among other things, allowances, a monthly salary, a piece of land or a residential unit, assistance with re-entry into school and access to mental health and psychosocial services.
Unfortunately, there is a huge loophole in the Survivors Act: it does not address the needs of children born as a result of sexual violence by ISIL members, nor the needs of their mothers. Although some Yezidi women have chosen to separate from children born through sexual violence, we found that many others have been forcibly separated and are desperate to reunite.
The Iraqi authorities must address the plight of these women and children by including children born to sexual violence in particular in reparation and taking all necessary measures to ensure that these women and children can live together in safety.
The passage of the Survivors Act, however, remains a remarkable achievement. With its holistic and comprehensive package of reparations measures, it has the potential to become the gold standard for future reparations programs and to set an example for other governments on how to meet their obligations to survivors.