ISIS has strongholds in both Syria and Egypt, and both countries have swathes of land that are under the self-proclaimed Islamic State's rule. While the world has heard some of the horrifying stories older "Children of the Caliphate" face as they're trained to become child soldiers, problems begin much earlier on for kids born under ISIS' rule. While ISIS issues its own marriage certificates, those pieces of paper mean nothing to other, recognized states — so those who are lucky enough to escape the group's rule are left undocumented and, essentially, stateless.
The fact that ISIS is getting forced out of certain areas is good news — but it means an increasing amount of children will be left without any recognized documents at all. According to NIQASH, there are already several hundred of these "children of the terror" living in Iraq, and these children face various challenges later in life. One mother told NIQASH that, without proof of a marriage, her new neighbors don't know whether her child is legitimate or not; none of them will speak to her or her daughter. And the undocumented children's lack of paperwork doesn't only bring social repercussions: it also bars them from enrolling in classes, receiving healthcare, or receiving identification.
Unfortunately, these challenges aren't limited to the 250 to 300 children currently recognized as ISIS-born in Iraq. According to a report by the Quilliam Foundation published in March, there are approximately 31,000 pregnant women under ISIS' rule at the moment. ISIS doesn't believe in recognizing citizens with identification, and a large amount of ISIS' marriage documentation is lost in airstrike attacks on military or government buildings. There are going to be many, many children who face this problem.
In a report for Foreign Affairs, Nadim Houry, director of the Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program at Human Rights Watch, warned:
If nothing is done to address the situation, a new group of stateless children living on the margins of already fragile and fragmented states like Iraq, Syria, and Libya will emerge.
The problem is complicated by laws in countries like Syria and Libya, where women alone cannot pass on their nationality to their children, according to Houry. Even in Iraq, where women can pass their citizenship on, they need to prove the father's identity — which, when women have married ISIS fighters who have often long-disappeared, can prove impossible.
So what can be done? According to Al Arabiya News, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees wants countries to issue birth certificates for children born under ISIS rule. One refugee camp manager, Ahmed Abdo, told Al Arabiya that the camp is working with the UNHCR, a Swedish non-profit, and the Iraqi government to resolve the cases of stateless children — but only 175 have been worked out so far.
"For those children who are born in Iraq and Syria who would otherwise be stateless, authorities will have to grant them nationality in accordance with international law," wrote Houry in November.
Resolving these children's citizenship will take time, but it's a process that needs to begin now. It's part of the fallout that comes with dealing with a group like ISIS, but there will doubtless be countless more cases like this appearing in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. These children deserve the basic rights that come with citizenship, including education and healthcare — and the sooner countries figure out how to process these children, the sooner they can start living more normal lives.