During January and February 2016, Human Rights Watch (HRW) interviewed 21 Sunni Muslim Arab women from the Hawija area of Iraq and 15 women and girls from the Yazidi minority ethnic group, all of whom had fled ISIS-controlled areas, most in late 2015. The women say they were forcibly converted to Islam, kept in sexual slavery, bought and sold in slave markets, and each was passed on among as many as four ISIS members. Even once they escaped to territories controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), they say they were interned in camps by KRG forces and denied access to their identification papers. The KRG estimates that ISIS still holds about 1,800 Yazidi women and girls, and the United Nations believes as many as 3,500 people remained in ISIS captivity as of October 2015.
HRW reports that mental health conditions such as PTSD are widespread and largely untreated among female Yazidi escapees. The Iraqi Kurdish government has set up a survivors’ center staffed by psychologists and other healthcare staff, and most camps now have a visiting psychologist, or, more commonly, social workers who perform similar roles. But of the women HRW spoke to, only one was taking advantage of the services. Women and providers cited childcare, lack of money, transport, stigma surrounding mental health problems and rape, and lack of knowledge about the services as barriers to care.
HRW is calling on the Iraq and Kurdistan parliaments to amend laws to allow safe and legal abortions for women and girls who wish to terminate pregnancies resulting from sexual violence.
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