ISIS women using 13-year-old boys as sex slaves to breed new fighters - opinion

Some refuse to accept Caliphate's territorial defeat and seek to bear it more children – using pubescent boys within the camps as sexual partners.

A view of areas where ISIS is still active, from the Kurdish Peshmerga frontline on Mount Qarachogh. (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
A view of areas where ISIS is still active, from the Kurdish Peshmerga frontline on Mount Qarachogh.
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)

ISIS has long been known for its sexual predation on Yazidi, Christian, Shia and even Sunni women who they captured and forced into sexual slavery, some sold to individual ISIS cadres, others serving in group homes where they were subjected to systematic multiple rapes. 

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A new twist on ISIS’s perverted practices is now becoming apparent in the camps housing 10,000 foreign ISIS-affiliated women and children—the sexual exploitation of adolescent and teenage boys. 

While some of the women in these camps want nothing more to do with ISIS and hope to be repatriated, others refuse to accept the territorial defeat of the ISIS Caliphate and seek to bear more children for its furtherance. As their youth, some detained for years now, are aging into puberty, these women are turning them into sexual partners. They instruct the boys to serve the Islamic State’s expansion by becoming temporary husbands to the ISIS women, four at a time. 

Young boys forced to be temporary husbands to ISIS women

In camp al Hol, two of these boys, Ahmet, 13, and Hamid, 14 turned to a guard begging to be removed from pro-ISIS women forcing them into the temporary Islamic marriages with four women at a time, to be replaced with another four after their deeds were done.  

Yazidi women attend a ceremony on International Women Day, March 8, at Lilash Temple in Iraqi Kurdistan to commemorate female ISIS victims. (credit: ARI JALAL / REUTERS)Yazidi women attend a ceremony on International Women Day, March 8, at Lilash Temple in Iraqi Kurdistan to commemorate female ISIS victims. (credit: ARI JALAL / REUTERS)

Boys in Camp al Roj have also been sexually exploited although it appears exploitation in Roj camp has been more for the pleasure of adult women locked up for years without their men. This past week I spoke with Osama, who admitted his sexual exploitation at Camp al Roj to a guardian at the Orkesh rehabilitation center where he had been taken for his own protection.

He was sad to be separated from his mother and siblings but happy with the sports, classes and counseling offered to him in this clean and modern center which was been repurposed from a resort, has rooms with bunk beds, foosball tables, a large football field, healthy food and other amenities.

When asked if he would like to be repatriated, even if it was without his mother, he enthusiastically said yes, and indicated his mother feels the same. He is anxious about his mother and his siblings safety but loves learning and yearns to return home to school and is sure his grandparents and extended family would welcome his repatriation.

He, like the other boys I did preliminary assessments for, and his family came to Syria when he was a young kid, and he has not been weapons trained or is ideologically committed to ISIS. In fact, he says his family ended up in SDF custody while they were trying to escape from ISIS via smugglers. 

The problems of ISIS youth growing up in the camps while their countries refuse to repatriate, or even worse offer to repatriate but allow their ISIS-committed mothers to refuse on their behalf—effectively condemning these children to a life of misery—is that these older youth directed by ISIS-die hard women are creating serious difficulties for the Autonomous Administration of North East Syria (AANES) which administers the camps.

Internal security forces and camp administrators told ICSVE that the pro-ISIS mothers use their youth to carry out crimes on their behalf: destroying the equipment of NGOs struggling to offer education, rehabilitation and deradicalization services; attacking women and their children who denounce and refuse to obey ISIS dictates and dress codes, throwing stones at them and burning their tents; and engaging in weapons training and patrol units inside the camps.

In Camp al Hol they demand zakat (ISIS tax) from NGO workers and for women workers to wear full niqab; threatening to behead those who don’t pay, and the pro-ISIS women hold indoctrination classes for ISIS youth and shariah courts where punishments, including executions, are carried out. 

Moreover, these young boys aging into puberty are contending with their own budding sexual drives. One raped and impregnated a Syrian 13-year-old in Camp al Roj and others have been witnessed molesting and even having sex with younger boys.

In response to these new challenges, the AANES is in the process of issuing a policy and procedure statement about the removal of ISIS-affiliated boys from the camps, separating them from their mothers. Acknowledging that the UNHCR advocates family unity, they point to the exceptions that even the UNHCR allows for: cases of suspected criminality on the part of their mothers and abuse of the children.

No refugee camp can function well if gangs of aggressive boys are egged into violent acts by their mothers and if adolescent and older boys are being sexually exploited and also sexually aggressing on others. Separation and removal are called for to protect both the boys and those they may be harming.

UN criticises separating the boys from the ISIS camps

A UN panel of experts recently strongly criticized AANES for removal and separation of ISIS-affiliated boys from the camps into the Orkesh rehabilitation center where I am advising, but there is no basis for this criticism. UN policy, EU, US, Syrian and AANES law all support acting in the best interest of youth by removing them from homes when there are issues of abuse or criminality occurring.

The UN experts also warned that the removed boys might disappear or be sold, but the Camp al Roj administrator who oversaw the recent transfer of these boys assured the boys were, in every case, officially transferred from the camp authority to the justice and reforming authorities of the AANES. They were then moved directly into the rehabilitation center, according to the director, who states that “the boys are definitely not for sale.”

Indeed, when pro-ISIS women understood that their boys could be taken to rehabilitation centers they pled on Telegram and other apps for funds to preemptively spirit them out of the camps to become fighters for ISIS. ICSVE reported on cases where this was successfully accomplished and indeed youth did disappear.

The protection and well-being of children that were taken by their parents into Syria is our collective responsibility. That women of Western countries could be allowed to refuse repatriation for their children because they hope for the return of the ISIS Caliphate and try to smuggle them out to ISIS is criminal. In no such case in the West would a mother be knowingly  allowed to harm her child in that way. Furthermore, ISIS-affiliated boys in the camp are aging into young men, many of them who were continuously traumatized since childhood by bombardments, ISIS and now women who sexually exploit them. They are not going to grow up as healthy individuals.

We need to bring them to immediate safety in rehabilitation centers and repatriate them home—even if it means separating them from their mothers—and we need to act fast. Many will age into men and if these boys continue under the indoctrination, sick urging, and exploitation of pro-ISIS women they can in a few short years grow into an army of ISIS men emerging out of these camps.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). She serves as Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine and an Affiliate in the Center for Security Studies, Georgetown University. 

Dr. Speckhard has interviewed over 800 terrorists, violent extremists, their family members and supporters around the world. She is an expert in rehabilitation and repatriation of terrorists and their families and actively trains key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, elite hostage negotiation teams, educators, and other professionals in countering violent extremism, locally and internationally. 

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