Dozens of Yazidi children who have been rescued from the Islamic State terror group in Iraq and Syria are now receiving counseling to cope with and recover from the trauma they experienced during their years in captivity.
At Qadiya refugee camp near the Iraqi Kurdistan Region’s northern city of Duhok, more than 100 Yazidi boys and girls aged between 4 and 13, who were kidnapped by IS in August 2014, are getting assistance to recover from the psychological harm they sustained under IS control.
The children were smuggled out of IS-controlled territories in Iraq and Syria in recent months.
Most of the boys were trained by IS to engage in militancy, while many girls were sexually abused.
Zahid Suhail, 12, is one of the boys who was indoctrinated with IS extremist ideology in Iraq and sent to Syria for military training when he was just 9 years old.
“I was first sent to a military camp in Tal Afar for three months and later transferred to a military camp in Mosul,” Suhail told VOA.
“I received religious training on the Quran, creed, and the main obligations. They later arranged a test, which I passed,” he added.
While in Mosul, Suhail said, he also was taught Arabic and was prevented from using his native Kurdish language. He is still unable to speak Kurdish. His family and psychiatrists are trying to help him to recover his native tongue.
After finishing his religious training, Suhail was sent to the eastern Syrian city of Deir el-Zour, where he was trained for fighting.
“Someone called Abu Khatab al-Iraqi took me to Syria. They sent me to a group of [IS] special forces in a military camp near the airport of Deir el-Zour,” Suhail said.
‘Cubs of the caliphate’
Suhail told VOA that shortly after finishing his military training, he was made a member of a group of IS child recruits known as the “cubs of the caliphate.”
There is no official data on how many children were schooled and trained by IS since 2014, but human rights organizations estimate the number to be in the thousands.
WATCH: French Group Strives to Help Yazidi Children Traumatized by IS
In Iraq, the government’s counterterrorism program has listed about 2,000 children as having been potentially influenced or brainwashed by Islamic State ideology.
Many of those child recruits died while fighting on behalf of IS in the last year. An IS video released in February 2017 showed two teenage Yazidi brothers purportedly blowing up their explosives-laden vehicles in an attack on Iraqi forces in Mosul.
Psychologists at Qadiya refugee camp said Suhail was fortunate to have been smuggled out of Deir el-Zour, because IS fought a losing battle against the Syrian army and its allied forces last October.
Now their job is to help him overcome the mental stress and health effects caused by years of IS indoctrination.
“They brainwashed him for 3½ years and, in many ways, made him act exactly like one of them,” Naeef Jardo, a psychiatrist at the camp, told VOA. “We are working hard to bring him back to normal.”
Jardo is among several specialists at the camp who are working to help rehabilitate the children.
French organization Yahad In-Unum is funding the children’s recovery and reintegration process.
In addition to psychological counseling, the camp provides several recreational activities and learning programs to help the children learn new skills.
Jardo said the younger children have shown a lot of improvement, while those older than 9 might need a longer period of treatment, particularly traumatized girls who were sexually abused.
One of the girls at the camp, Madeha Ibrahim, 13, said she was still in shock from the horrors she suffered at the hands of IS as a sex slave.
“Abu Usuf raped me and beat me a lot with a hose,” she told VOA while recalling the story of her enslavement by an IS fighter in Mosul. “He tortured me a lot.”
Ibrahim said she was later sold to another IS fighter of Turkish origin.
“The Turkish [IS member] grabbed my ponytail and hit my head on the wall three times until I became unconscious,” she added.
‘I offered to convert’
Evana Hassan, another 13-year-old girl at the camp, told VOA she experienced similar abuse from an IS fighter because she refused to convert to Islam.
“He told me, ‘I will sell you.’ I suffered a lot from being sold to different people. I told him, ‘Don’t sell me. I will convert to your religion.’ “
Hassan said the IS fighter repeatedly raped her at age 12, claiming she had reached the age of sexual maturity.
“When I turned 12 years old, he told me, ‘You have reached the age of marriage. I will marry you now,’ ” Hassan said.
The camp organizers said that while they would continue to care for the 108 rescued boys and girls, they were prepared to receive more children as they were found across Iraq and Syria.
Yazidi organizations say about 2,000 Yazidis, mostly women and children, remain missing even as IS has lost most of its enclaves in Iraq and Syria.
“We are continuously welcoming new survivors at our camp,” Khalaf Alias of Yahad In-Unum told VOA. “We expect hundreds more children to be found.”
Alias said it would most likely take years for the children to recover and that more international support would be needed to help the Yazidi community in Iraq.
“Those children have gone through a lot of suffering. They deserve more attention from everyone,” Alias said.