The majority of children of jihadists adapt well once repatriated, socializing like young people their age, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday in a report entitled “My son is just a child like the others”.
The NGO interviewed relatives, foster parents, social workers and teachers of around a hundred children aged 2 to 17, all of whom returned from the Iraqi-Syrian zone between 2019 and 2022, in the seven countries following countries: Germany, France, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Netherlands, United Kingdom and Sweden.
It shows that 89% of those questioned believe that the child is adapting “very well” or “fairly well”, despite the months spent under the yoke of the Islamic State (IS) organization or in “horror “IDP camps in northeast Syria. Only 4% of these people indicate that the child is in difficulty. In addition, 73% of respondents say that the child is doing “very well” or “fairly well” in class, despite poor access to education during their captivity.
Since 2019, more than 1,500 children have returned, according to HRW. Support varies by country. While in Uzbekistan the children stay with their mother, in Belgium, France and the Netherlands, for example, they are immediately separated, the mother being detained or charged for acts related to IS.
In Sweden, for example, children can be placed under observation for three months in a specialized youth facility before being placed with an extended family, a foster family or an institution. In Germany, grandparents or other extended family members are usually able to immediately assume responsibility for the care of returning children.
“In many cases, the separation takes place without warning, without the possibility for the mother to explain to the child what was happening,” notes HRW. However, separation from the mother “adds trauma” and should be avoided, argues the NGO, in favor of “non-custodial alternatives”. The long delays before placement in the extended family can also “undermine the stability (of the child, editor’s note) in the long term”, underlines the NGO.
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