The Iraqi government is denying thousands of children whose parents are perceived to have been affiliated with Daesh (ISIS) the right to access an education.
A Human Rights Watch report released Wednesday said children who were born or lived in Daesh-controlled areas in Iraq (between 2014 and 2017) lack the civil documentation required by the central government for school enrollment. And the government is making it difficult for them to acquire it.
In September 2018, Education Ministry officials endorsed and signed instructions supporting what initially appeared to allow children without civil documentation to attend schools. But officials have rescinded the order, instructing school principals and aid groups that provide support education services that undocumented children are to still be barred from enrollment.
“The [September] notes that were endorsed by the Education Ministry are very vague, and don’t give many details,” Bilkie Wille, a HRW researcher in Iraq, told The Daily Star. Wille said the ministry released the document to a handful of NGOs, but since its release last year there has been no official update on what caused the change in policies.
“It is relevant to note that at that time there was no minister of education in place, maybe there was a change of position within the ministry, or pressures that came into play that we don’t know of,” Wille said. “The instructions must have been transmitted in writing. But it’s not clear. I asked a principle if I could see the papers but he couldn’t find them.”
In Ninevah, three school principals and an aid worker coordinating an education program told HRW that ministry officials said that as of January 1 this year, only the students that provided required documents were allowed to register and attend school.
The principal of a primary school near a displacement camp km southeast of Mosul told HRW that since 2018, he had been allowing all children in the camp to attend his facility. But after receiving the ministry’s new instruction, “at least 100 kids stopped coming to school.”
“Either their parents couldn’t afford to go to Mosul to make the pledge, or they didn’t see the point because they knew they would not be able to get civil documentation for them within 30 days,” he said.
Neither the aid worker nor principals asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.
Many families who lived under Daesh’s rule are missing one or more of the documents schools are requiring parents to provide to enroll these children. The group, interviewing more than 20 families whose children could still not register after the September 2018 decision, could not identify any family who were able to enroll their children without required documents.
At the height of Daesh’s presence in Iraq, the militants regularly confiscated Iraqis’ civil documentation and issued their own, which the Iraqi authorities do not recognize. Iraqi security forces also confiscated some families’ documents as they fled the fighting or when they arrived at camps for displaced people.
HRW said families whose children were born in Daesh-run hospitals have faced difficulties obtaining birth certificates and all subsequent documentation for their children, particularly if the husband is dead, missing or detained.
Wille said authorities ask women to provide a valid death or divorce certificate in order to issue them and their children documentation, which most in that situation do not have.
As a result, many women married to Daesh members have not been able to obtain divorce or death certificates. Government forces have even threatened them with arrest or other forms of collective punishment when they tried to obtain civil documentation.
"Denying children their right to education because of something their parents might have done is a grossly misguided form of collective punishment," said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "It undermines any potential government efforts to counter extremist ideology by punishing these children to the margins of society."
In July, HRW wrote to the Iraqi government asking for clarification on the government’s position on whether children missing documentation are able to enroll in school.
On Aug. 29, the Iraqi Education Ministry denied the group's report and said that every child, including those belonging to the Daesh, has been provided with access to education. The statement rejected to have banned schools from enrolling them in any areas.
Source: The Daily Star