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

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  • NADIM HOURY is Director of the Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program at Human Rights Watch.
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