08 November 2017

A voice for the voiceless: researching the challenges of children born by ISIS rape in Iraq

Serri (Sura) Mahmood has received a Swiss Humanitarian Award for her Master’s dissertation, "Challenges of Children Born by ISIS Rape in Iraq", written during her Master of Advanced Studies in Humanitarian Action at the Geneva Centre for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action (CERAH), a joint centre of the Graduate Institute and University of Geneva.

"I had worked on projects empowering women at Baghdad based NGOs since 2010, and in 2015 I became part of campaign efforts to shelter Internally Displaced People fleeing from ISIS invaded cities. That was when I discovered the story of Safia, my case-study. While I was listening to her story, I realized this woman couldn’t be empowered because she was suffering from more complex problems, ones that my NGOs colleagues and I had not considered previously.

Rape is a very sensitive and challenging topic to talk about in a conservative environment. The tribal system is embedded in the social fabric of Iraq and has established traditions and governance norms. In addition, Iraq was and still is experiencing the on-going consequences of war and many people are traumatized by what ISIS has done to their homes, families, relatives, and to the country in general. It was difficult to investigate the protection of children born by ISIS rape because many people could not separate the identity of the terrorist groups from the children produced as a result of rape by men from those groups.

The social, economic and legal implications for children born as a result of rape and their mothers are interlinked. Legal frameworks should be adaptable to the complexity of the situation. Registering children born by rape under their own mothers’ name should not be conditional, which is the case in Iraq. Rights of child born of rape and their mothers are not limited to statelessness, but cover basic rights such as access to health facilities, right to life, food, family, freedom of religion, and freedom of movement for the mother and her child inside the country.

It was very rewarding to have opportunities to reach stakeholders, such as the minister of social affairs, to whom I was able to discuss the rights which have been taken from these women and children. Safia (my case-study), taught me the importance and impact of being a voice for the voiceless, which is hard to do when your own security is threatened. I want to use this award as a platform to be their voice to create change for the future. I also hope to have more opportunities to conduct research on armed conflicts impacting children. I was born and raised in areas of armed conflict until I was 25 years of age and so I understand its impact."

Click here to read the dissertation online.