In Syria, An Orphanage Cares For Children Born To Yazidi Mothers Enslaved By ISIS Because their fathers were ISIS fighters, the Yazidi community rejects the children and forces their mothers to give them up. Some willingly do so, but others are desperate for news of their children.

In Syria, An Orphanage Cares For Children Born To Yazidi Mothers Enslaved By ISIS

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We're going to look now at one of the legacies of ISIS in Iraq and Syria - the children of mothers from the Yazidi religious minority and the ISIS fathers who enslaved them. Their mothers were forced to give them up in order to be allowed to return home to Iraq. Most women never learn what happened to their children. NPR's Jane Arraf has been searching for them.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, singing in foreign language).

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: There's a roomful of little kids watching cartoons - normal, adorable kids at the center of a huge controversy. Their mothers are from the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq, and their fathers are the ISIS fighters who enslaved them. The women were freed in Syria from years of captivity.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, singing in foreign language).

ARRAF: But the Yazidi community in Iraq hasn't let them return with their children of ISIS fathers, a group that committed genocide against the Yazidis. The mothers were forced to give up the children and told to forget them, that they've been adopted by Kurdish Syrian families - their names changed, their pasts forgotten. But we've been looking for these children. We finally find them here at this orphanage near the Iraqi border.

Absolutely surrounded by these little kids coming up and hugging us. There's a little girl with a beautiful sequined cat and her blue T-shirt.


ARRAF: There are 41 children here, born to Yazidi mothers. They're as young as 3 months old and as old as 4. We go into a separate house for the smallest children.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: We've just walked into a room where there are babies sleeping. There's a pink and purple bed and three little children, a girl and two boys, who look like they're probably under the age of 2. They're all sound asleep under this fluffy tiger print blanket.

Next to those children is a baby, just 3 months old, with an IV tube in his hand. He's just been brought back from the hospital. One of the caregivers gives him a bottle. A little girl with enormous blue eyes, wearing a floaty white party dress with sequins and pink roses, silently watches. Her name is Berivan (ph). She came almost a year ago when she was just 6 months old. In her ears, there are real gold earrings she was wearing when she was brought here. Before she was given up, she was treasured.

ARIA OSMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: A local official, Aria Osman, says those who came in the last few months from Baghouz - the last piece of ISIS territory to fall in Syria - were in much worse shape.

OSMAN: (Through interpreter) When they were arriving, they were very weak and starving. They were just skin and bones. We gave them milk and good food, and now they are better.

ARRAF: A caregiver, Fajriya Khaled, opens up a freezer and shows me frozen chicken. There are eggs and fresh fruit in the fridge and a pail of homemade yogurt from a nearby village.


ARRAF: People children call the caregivers Mama. But a few of the older ones remember their own mothers. They believe they've just gone away for medical treatment.

NAZI ALLAWI: (Through interpreter) If they are under the age of 4, they forget - even the face, they forget. They are still little children. When they see new things, they forget old things.

ARRAF: That's Nazi Allawi, a psychologist who works with the children.


ARRAF: Yazidis don't recognize a child unless both parents were Yazidi. So when the women have been freed from captivity, they faced a heart-wrenching choice. If they want to go home, they have to give up their children from ISIS fathers. Osman is there when some of them do.

OSMAN: (Through interpreter) Some of the mothers just leave them here and go. But there are others who are very attached to their children.

ARRAF: She says she's in touch with about 10 of the mothers in Iraq. They ask her secretly to send them photos of their children, and she does.

OSMAN: (Through interpreter) Step by step, the families force them to forget their children and make them lose hope. But whatever they do, she is still the mother, and the baby is still from her flesh and blood.

ARRAF: A lot of Yazidi women in Iraq, forbidden by their families from even talking about their children with ISIS fathers, say they don't know if their children are alive or dead.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing in foreign language).

ARRAF: In the orphanage, we see a 2-year-old boy we met in March, just before he was taken from his mother in another town. The mother and the boy's older sister were inconsolable. The mother was told he was being adopted by a family. But the children are in limbo. Osman says they will stay here in the orphanage in Syria until the Yazidi religious leaders in Iraq change their minds.

Jane Arraf, NPR News, northeastern Syria.

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