More than one million children who have been living under ISIS in Iraq have either been out of school or forced to learn from an ISIS curriculum, some for more than two years, warns Save the Children.
As Iraqi forces continue to battle for control of the suburbs of Mosul city, the number of people displaced by fighting since the offensive was launched on October 17 has climbed to around 34,000 - a 50 percent increase since Friday.
Parents of children who lived under ISIS rule and are now based at Jad’ah camp, south of Qayyarah, say the extremist content of the curriculum aimed to brainwash children and turn them into fighters.
Father of five, Hamid*, said: “They would tell children how to make bombs. When children came out from the school there was a big TV in the garden where they were showing propaganda: how to kill and how to make suicide bombs and how to cut heads off.”
He said only boys were allowed to go to school, but most parents did their best to protect them by keeping them at home despite pressure from ISIS.
“We told them… you should not believe it. This is not the right Islam. We were guiding our children to make sure they didn’t believe everything they were taught.”
Karim* has four children. He said many children as young as 12 were recruited by ISIS at school to fight.
“Some children told me that ISIS used to take them to their base for 40 days to train them and to tell them that it’s Halaal (permissable) to kill army people,” he said.
“They used to take about 50-100 children for each programme. A lot of children obeyed ISIS and then they were killed in fighting.”
Karim said his children lived in constant fear and he was frustrated at having to keep them from school to protect them.
“It’s difficult for my girls, they were very scared, crying all the time, shaking.
“I want my children to get educated, and get a job. The most important thing for them is to read and to write.”
There are now more than 1000 families living at the camp, where Save the Children has built temporary classrooms to get children back to learning as quickly as possible.
Save the Children Iraq country director Maurizio Crivellaro said the children were excited to get started.
“Innocent children should never be exposed to this kind of instruction at school. Getting them back into a safe and positive school environment is critical to starting the recovery process and giving them hope for their future.
“As soon as we set the classrooms up, they were already gathering outside and peering in curiously. Judging by the big smiles on their faces, they knew this is how school should be and they were excited to get back to normal.”
Teachers at the schools have begun running recreational activities and games for the children, before they get started on basic literacy and numeracy, and then introduce the Iraqi curriculum, with support from the affected communities and the Ninewa Directorate of Education (DoE).
Mr Crivellaro said some children had never been to school and they would need extra support.
“All displaced children will need to attend non-formal or catch up classes for at least the next few months before they are reassessed and referred to formal schools depending on their performance, and as per guidance and support from the DoE,” he said.
“Children and parents tell us that during times of crisis, education is their priority. They tell us it’s the key to their future and it can’t be delayed. These children have missed out on enough of their childhoods.”
For interviews, call Lily Partland on +964 751 135 4376 or Simon Edmunds on +964 751 135 4382
Multimedia content including imagery, video and audio can be downloaded here: http://storycentral.savethechildren.org.uk/?c=41401&k=41cd44c42c
Notes to editor:
*names have been changed to protect identities
• According to the 2016 Iraq Humanitarian Response Plan, 3 million people were living in areas under ISIS control in December 2015. As about 35% of the Iraqi population is school-aged, we estimate that more than 1 million children (1,050,000) living in ISIS held areas were either not going to school or attending schools that were ISIS controlled.
• According to the IOM, as of November 6, 33,996 people had been displaced since the start of the Mosul offensive on October 17.