Photo credit: Amar International Charitable Foundation
By Holly Young
“It was a lovely life. I had a big family and there was always a lot of laughter,” says 16-year-old Nihad Alawsi, speaking about her Yazidi community in northern Iraq. “I’m one of 18 siblings, but I was always my dad’s favourite.” She remembers the weddings, when the girls would get their hair and make-up done, and the days spent as a little girl drawing pictures of the flowers breaking through the Iraqi landscape.
Then came the day that cut short her childhood. Speaking via a translator, Nihad’s breathing quickens as she describes “that black morning” when 28 members of her family and others in her village fell into the hands of Isis. At 15, Nihad became one of the thousands of victims in the largest single mass kidnap of women and girls this century.
“They killed men,” says Nihad. “They didn’t want the older women so they either killed them on the spot or chased them out of their homes. They kidnapped us girls, raped us, and took our babies.” The Yazidi community has been specifically targeted by Isis. In 2014 an estimated 5,000 were taken; 3,500 are thought to be still missing.
Nihad was sold as a sex slave to an Isis fighter. “I was raped and beaten continuously for two weeks,” she says describing the beginning of her 15 months in captivity. “They took us first to Syria and then back to Mosul in Iraq.” She met many other Yazidi girls along the way who spoke of the relentless forced movement, as they were endlessly sold and resold, back and forth between Iraq and Syria. Sometimes they were sent as “gifts”: “The men think it is fun to exchange women. One girl I met had been resold 15 times.”
“They all had their stories,” says Nihad, who has been brought to London from Iraq by the Amar International Charitable Foundation to highlight the issue of Isis’ treatment of women and girls. Occasionally the girls found brief moments to offer support to each other. “But we had no life. Many are too young to take the beatings and rape,” says Nihad. Some of the sex slaves are reportedly as young as nine.
“There is one story I haven’t been able to forget,” says Nihad. “I met a 12-year-old girl from a village not far from my own. She had been raped so badly she was bleeding a lot. They had to take her to hospital.”
After being regularly abused by her Isis “owner”, Nihad became pregnant and was taken to live with his wife, four children, and another kidnapped Yazidi girl. “I felt like the child I was carrying was a criminal and I tried many times to miscarry,” says Nihad. After giving birth to a boy she was moved to his cousin’s house. “When I refused to marry the boy’s father he told me that he would take the boy from me when he was grown up. It was at that moment that I decided to escape without my son.”
To Nihad’s amazement, however, at the house she found the sympathy that enabled her to escape. The wife and a neighbour helped the 16-year-old make the phone call to her family and secure a smuggler. The first thing she wanted to do when she arrived home was hug her mum: “I never thought I would see the day when I was free again.” She is currently living with her parents in one of the refugee camps accommodating the estimated 3.2 million internally displaced people in northern Iraq.
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