Sexual slavery

Saleha Jaffer is founder of FAST, and has met the mothers of children who have travelled to Syria
Saleha Jaffer is founder of FAST, and has met the mothers of children who have travelled to Syria
Saleha Jaffer is founder of FAST, and has met the mothers of children who have travelled to Syria
Saleha Jaffer is founder of FAST, and has met the mothers of children who have travelled to Syria

‘Harrowing stories of how 9-year-old girls are sold naked at public markets for as little as the price of a packet of cigarettes’

The horrific news that ISIL reportedly executed 19 girls for refusing to have sex with fighters is yet another example of the sexual violence carried out by ISIL.

This has become depressingly familiar, with a recent study from the UN showing that ISIL have been using rape as a weapon of war on an industrial scale.

Reporting from media outlets, NGOs, and aid agencies all reveal how women from the local Yazidi population are being used as sex slaves, some as young as 9-years-old, and sold in markets.

We hear harrowing stories of how these girls are sold naked at public markets, for as little as the price of a packet of cigarettes, and passed between ISIL fighters like commodities.

ISIL has created a society that dehumanises women, where, on pain of death, local women and girls are forced into marriage with ISIL fighters from the age of 12, and unmarried women are harassed in the streets – it shows no one is safe from the abuses of this group.

These ‘marriages’ result in terrible injuries, pregnancies, STDs and long-term emotional damage. It is understandable why parents in ISIL-controlled territory are hiding their daughters and sending them away for their own protection. Families are being ripped apart in Syria and Iraq, as they are in UK when young girls disappear to join ISIL.

In my work as part of our Families Matter campaign, I have met the mothers of children who have travelled to Syria; they see the reporting about ISIL’s abuses of women. They are terrified about what will become of their children, desperately waiting for a phone call or text message to say they are safe. Meanwhile, their daughters may have been manipulated with false stories of a Sharia utopia, in reality they face barbaric treatment, death and little chance of being able to return home.

One case is that of Tareena Shakil, a 26-year-old from Staffordshire who travelled to Syria in October 2014 with her young son, after becoming obsessed with ISIL material online. She soon found that the promises made to her online were lies, as ISIL tried to force her into marrying one of their fighters.

Tareena and her son narrowly escaped being killed when she fled, and on her return to the UK in February 2015 she said: “I thought I was going for a better life but it ended up as hell. IS will say anything to get women over there. They lied to me and when I got there I saw for myself just how bad it was”.

It can be hard to understand why women would want to travel to be part of this, particularly those who are essentially taking small children into war zones.

It is important to remember though, that ISIL propaganda presents clean hospitals, smiling children in schools and a secure environment – the group claims to offer them the chance of a fresh start. However, recordings by local people show how sexual violence, murder and brutality have been normalised under ISIL, with fighters cruelly joking as they barter for young girls in slave markets.

The thought of any parent sacrificing the security and opportunity of this country in order to raise their children in an environment where rape is normalised, is almost too much to bear. But sadly, we know that this has happened.

This is why it is so important to discuss these issues as families, in order to make a difference before it is too late. Children and adults alike are being targeted by ISIL online for recruitment; they are drip-feeding them lies and propaganda while encouraging them to leave their families and communities behind. The tactics are similar to those used by people sexually grooming young people online.

For parents, it is important to know who your children are talking to online, and there are a number of resources offering advice on how to supervise their activity.

All of us have a role to play in being vigilant to the danger of a family member being lured by superficially attractive lies.
During the Families Matter workshops held around the UK, I have seen how families are frightened by ISIL, but also want to have those difficult conversations in order to protect their loved ones from an abusive and barbaric group. I don’t want any more girls falling victim to these prolific predators and one should not have to choose between death or rape.


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