Children of the Caliphate

What to Do About Kids Born Under ISIS

A mother and child mourn in al-Shadadi, Syria, February 2016. Rodi Said / Reuters

Imagine that you were born in the self-proclaimed “caliphate” of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). Your father may have been one of thousands of foreign fighters who traveled to Iraq or Syria to wage jihad or simply a civilian forced to live under ISIS rule. He met and married your mother, perhaps forcibly, in Raqqa or Mosul. The only proof of your parents’ marriage—if there was one—and even of your own birth are documents that ISIS issued. Now that the extremist group has lost control of the area you live in, you find yourself without any officially recognized identification papers. To make matters more complicated, odds are that your father is most likely dead, detained, or deployed at some unknown frontline.  

As Western and allied forces advance on ISIS’ main urban areas, more and more children are in this situation or are about to face it. As with most issues tied to areas under ISIS control, it is difficult to establish the precise scale of the problem. The Quilliam Foundation, a British research organization focused on counterextremism, released a report in March citing an intelligence official who said that there were 31,000 pregnant women living under ISIS. Meanwhile, an Iraqi journalist, Ghazwan Hassan al-Jibouri, wrote in May about 300 children fathered by members of ISIS who have no citizenship and have not been able to enroll in school in Iraq. The journalist referenced research by Iraq’s Interior Ministry suggesting that around a third of “marriage-age women” living in areas controlled by ISIS had wed members of the extremist group, many of whom were not actually from Iraq. 

If nothing is done to address the situation, a new group of stateless children living on the margins of already fragile and fragmented states such as Iraq, Syria, and Libya will emerge.

Maintaining proper documentation of marriages and births is always challenging during times of conflict. And the lack of papers can make such everyday activities as enrolling in school or

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