“Infidels, pagans, nonbelievers”—these are terms that Islamic State (IS) militants use when referring to minority groups within their reach. The Islamic State’s offensive in 2014 victimized both Sunni and Shia Muslims in Iraq and made additional targets of minorities who practice Yazidism or Christianity. Some of the group’s most brutal tactics are its public penchant for the abduction and forced conversion of children from these minorities.
In 2014, IS entered the town of Qaraqosh, located in the Nineveh plains, an area of Iraq home to many Assyrian Christians. Qaraqosh was home to Iraq’s largest Christian community, mostly those who practice Catholicism or Orthodox Christianity. Iraq, which has one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, has seen its numbers dwindle in recent years, leaving Christianity in the country vulnerable to extinction. The abduction of minority children only intensified the fragility of both Christian and Yazidi populations.
In December 2016, Qaraqosh was liberated from IS but the scars remain. Iraq’s missing children are living shadows amidst the burned out churches, mosques and other destroyed buildings that IS left in its wake.
Christina, who comes from a Qaraqosh Catholic family, was only 4 years old at the time of her abduction. The tragedy has left her family living in a refugee camp and too afraid to return home. Christina is thought to still be alive. Her fate, like so many other minority children abducted by IS militants, is one of forced conversion or even conscription.
A 2016 United Nations report on children and armed conflict said the number of children abducted by the Islamic State is greatly under-documented due to a lack of access to conflict areas.
* Note: Roughly two months after this piece was published in North America and in European publications Christina was released as a hostage.