Most children in orphanages are not orphans; child trafficking

A girl writes the names of body parts on a chalkboard at an orphanage outside Gulu, Uganda, June 10, 2007. REUTERS/Edward Ou

By Emma Batha

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Millions of children around the world live in orphanages, but child rights experts say most are not orphans.

Orphanages have become a lucrative business in developing countries, attracting generous funding. This has led to the trafficking of children to fill them, according to charities Forget Me Not and Lumos.

The two charities, which will talk about orphan trafficking at the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Trust Conference in London on Wednesday, are calling for an end to orphanages which they say cause immense harm to children.

Here are some facts:

– An estimated 8 million children live in orphanages and other institutions worldwide, but 80 percent are not orphans.

– Research shows orphanages harm children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development.

– Institutionalisation of very young children has a similar impact on early brain development to severe malnutrition or maternal drug use during pregnancy.

– Young adults raised in institutions are 10 times more likely to fall into sex work than their peers, and 500 times more likely to take their own lives.

– Placing a child in an orphanage quadruples the risk of sexual violence.


– The number of orphanages in Haiti jumped by at least 150 percent following the 2010 earthquake.

– Some 30,000 children live in 750 orphanages in Haiti, but Haiti’s government estimates 80 percent have at least one living parent.

– Only 15 percent of orphanages are registered.

– Lumos estimates that funding to all Haitian orphanages is upwards of $100 million a year.

– Its research suggests 92 percent of orphanage funders are from the United States, and 90 percent are faith-based.

– Institutional care is four times more expensive than providing health, education and social support to keep a child in its family.


– Cambodia has promised to return thousands of children in orphanages to their families.

– A survey published in 2017 found 16,579 children living in 406 orphanages with nearly 10,000 more living in other care facilities. Most had at least one living parent.

– The number of orphanages jumped by about 60 percent between 2005 and 2015, and the number of children in them by nearly 80 percent.

– The growth in orphanages comes despite a decline in the number of genuine orphans.

– Half of the orphanages are in the capital Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, both tourist destinations.


– The growth in orphanages is fuelled by tourism, including “voluntourism” where people work short stints in orphanages.

– Orphanage volunteering is a concern in at least 18 countries including Cambodia, Nepal, and Uganda.

– Countries such as the United States, Britain, and Australia are major contributors to the supply of volunteers.

– The continuous rotation of volunteers harms children psychologically, leading to attachment issues in adult life.- There is often no screening of volunteers, leaving children vulnerable to sexual abuse.

– Australia is the first country to recognize orphanage tourism as a form of slavery.

Sources: Lumos, Forget Me Not, Save the Children, UNICEF

(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

Cubs of the Caliphate: rehabilitating Islamic State’s children

Yazidi students are seen at school in the Sharya camp, in Duhok, Iraq February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Ari Jalal

By Raya Jalabi

RAWANGA CAMP, Iraq (Reuters) – While children who have been through war typically draw devastating pictures of the violence they have suffered, few show themselves as the perpetrators.

The suicide belts, car bombs and other explosives sketched again and again by a 14-year-old boy newly arrived at this camp in northern Iraq are the ones he built himself: used by Islamic State militants against civilians and troops in Iraq and Syria.

One image depicted him killing a man with a spray of bullets, something he said he did during three years as a child fighter forcibly conscripted by Islamic State.

Yazidi students draw with the psychologist at the psychotherapy centre in the Rawanga camp, in Duhok, Iraq February 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ari Jalal

Kidnapped from his Yazidi homeland in northern Iraq, he said he got used to the sound of bombs falling on Islamic State’s de facto capital, Raqqa, in Syria, as security forces closed in last year.

“Here’s where I got shot fighting the SDF,” said the boy, not named to protect him from retribution, referring to the U.S.-backed rebel Syrian Defense Forces and pointing out a bullet wound on his shin.

Giving him time to draw and talk about his experience is part of a treatment program to help him move on and protect both him and others from lasting damage.

Hundreds of children are estimated to have been used as fighters by Islamic State, including boys who joined with their families or were given up by them and the offspring of foreign fighters groomed from birth to perpetuate its ideology.

Experts have warned that indoctrinated children, who began escaping the clutches of Islamic State as its territory fractured last year, could pose an ongoing threat to security, both regionally and in the West, if they are not rehabilitated.

Treating Yazidi children, who were separated from their families and in many cases orphaned, holds particular challenges.

Yazidi students wait for the therapist at the psychotherapy centre in the Rawanga camp, in Duhok, Iraq February 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ari Jalal

Yazidi students wait for the therapist at the psychotherapy centre in the Rawanga camp, in Duhok, Iraq February 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ari Jalal


There is little in the way of specialized care for them in Iraq, where the minimum age of criminal responsibility is nine. The government has detained and prosecuted dozens of children for their suspected IS affiliation, according to a recent report by New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Naif Jardo Qassim, a psychotherapist treating children at Rawanga refugee camp near Dohuk emphasized that they are “victims and not criminals,” and should be treated as such.

Highlighting the scale of the task, Yazidi teacher Hoshyar Khodeida Suleiman recounts the story of one of his students, a young boy reunited with his family in the autumn.

A few days later, the boy’s father woke up in the middle of the night to find his son wielding a knife to his throat, confused about whether he should kill his parents or himself.

“He was screaming that they were infidels and that he would rather die than be one of them,” Suleiman said.

When the militants overran Yazidi towns and villages in 2014, it killed or enslaved more than 9,000 adults and children in what the United Nations has called a genocidal campaign against a religious minority labeled heretic by Islamic State.

It sold girls and women into slavery, marrying some off to fighters, and trained many boys to join the ranks of what it called the Cubs of the Caliphate, posting videos of them committing atrocities in the name of its self-declared state.

Most of the children returned, not home, but to displacement camps in northern Iraq, where they live with relatives – their parents either missing or killed by the militants.

“Everything changed while they were gone,” said Qassim. “That’s if they even remember anything from their lives before.”

Adding to that instability is the weight of the traumas they have endured.

“These children have seen their families killed, or were kidnapped, beaten and brainwashed,” he said. “In some cases, they witnessed executions, were forced to kill or were raped, multiple times, for years.”

Qassim works for Yahad In-Unum, one of a handful of international NGOs which has set up a children’s center in the camp, where children can receive psychological treatment, ranging from talk to art therapy.

They also come to play, said Qassim, “and remember how to be children again”.

Yazidi students draw with the psychologist at the psychotherapy centre in the Rawanga camp, in Duhok, Iraq February 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ari Jalal


Qassim’s six-month-old center is currently treating 123 children, a mix of girls and boys all under the age of 18, recently returned from Islamic State-held territory.

“When they first come back from captivity, the children can often be aggressive, violent, confused and angry,” he said, adding that many of the children were forced to forget their native Kurdish. “That quickly dissolves into anxiety and deep depression, as the trauma begins to settle in.”

The center devises a treatment program for each child, which involves both individual and group therapy sessions.

“We slowly work to undo the years of brainwashing they were subjected to,” said Qassim. “We want them to forget the last few years and start again.”

He said all the children he has treated were successfully “de-indoctrinated”, adding, “no child is beyond saving”.

The relative novelty of so-called deradicalization programs means opinion is divided over their effectiveness; Laila Ali, spokesperson for UNICEF in Iraq which supports such services, says rehabilitation is “absolutely possible”.

Some children are harder to reach than others, particularly those who have forgotten life before IS.

One 10-year-old boy was smuggled out of Syria just three and a half weeks ago and has since been living with his uncle in the camp. Shy at first, he became animated when describing his “accomplishments” during his fighter training in Deir Ezzor, Syria and said he is not sure his current life is better.

Qassim says he exhibits confusion about whether he should denounce Islamic State’s teachings. He and other children sneak off to pray in the toilets, unconvinced they will not get in trouble with Islamic State for shirking religious obligations.

Qassim says he is hopeful he will be back to normal soon.

Some face new humiliations on their return. “I had to move in with my relatives because my parents said they would never accept me back because of what I did,” said one former fighter, now aged 15.

Qassim is the only psychotherapist at his center and the work takes its toll. “It’s very difficult to hear children tell you these stories – of rape, of combat, of killings… In my life, I’d never heard such horrors.”

With little in the way of funds or a roadmap, some community members have pitched in to help in their own ways.

Suleiman aims to rehabilitate Yazidi children at Sharya refugee camp near Dohuk by “reconnecting them with their Yazidi faith”, with an emphasis on “humanity and human decency”.

On a rainy afternoon in late February, they came to class in traditional clothes he had given them: white dresses and scarves with black and gold headbands for the girls; trousers, matching waistcoat and red and white keffiyeh scarf for the boys.

“It’s a simple thing,” he said. “But the clothes are a reminder of who they are and where they come from.”

(Reporting by Raya Jalabi; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Lost children are legacy of battle for Iraq’s Mosul

Nine-year-old Iraqi girl Meriam looks out as she stands inside a house, east of Mosul, Iraq July 28, 2017.

By Angus MacSwan

MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) – Thousands of children have been separated from their parents in the nine-month battle for Mosul and the preceding years of Islamic State rule in northern Iraq – some found wandering alone and afraid among the rubble, others joining the refugee exodus from the pulverized city.

In some cases their parents have been killed. Families have been split up as they fled street fighting, air strikes or Islamic State repression. Many are traumatized from the horrors they have endured.

Protecting the youngsters and reuniting them with their families is an urgent task for humanitarian organizations.

“These children are extremely vulnerable,” said Mariyampillai Mariyaselvam, a child protection specialist with UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund). “Most have gone through a very painful history.”

Nine-year-old Meriam had left her family one day last October to visit her grandmother in west Mosul, then under Islamic State rule. The government offensive to recapture the city began, so she stayed there.

Her father Hassan told Reuters he had been a policeman but quit when the radical Islamists seized Mosul in 2014, fearing he would be targeted. He, his second wife, along with Meriam and her three half-siblings moved from dwelling to dwelling.

“We were living in many different places, moving around. Meriam stayed with her grandmother but when the bridges were shut down, I could not cross the river to see her,” he said, speaking in the abandoned, half-built house in east Mosul where the family is now squatting.

They eventually fled to the Hassan Sham displaced persons camp but Meriam was trapped in the west.

After government forces retook the neighborhood in June, she and her grandmother made it to the Khazer camp. Her father asked UNICEF for help and they managed to track down his daughter. They were reunited in Hassan Sham later that month.

“I was hearing bombing and killing every day. I did not believe they would find her,” he said.

Nine-year-old Iraqi girl Meriam smiles as she looks at her father Hassan in a house, east of Mosul, Iraq July 28, 2017. Picture taken July 28, 2017.

Nine-year-old Iraqi girl Meriam smiles as she looks at her father Hassan in a house, east of Mosul, Iraq July 28, 2017. Picture taken July 28, 2017. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Life is still hard for the family. They left the camp to return to the city with their few possessions, but the house owner wants to evict them. Hassan makes ends meet by finding day jobs. But at least they are together, he said, cuddling his daughter as he spoke.

Meriam, a bright-eyed girl with a shy smile, said she would like to go to school.

“I have never been to school. I would like to have books, a backpack, and to learn letters. That is my dream,” she said.



UNICEF says children in shock had been found in debris or hidden in tunnels in Mosul. Some had lost their families while fleeing to safety but sometimes parents had been forced to abandon children or give them away. Many children were forced to fight or carry out violent acts, it said in a statement. They were also vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

UNICEF’s Mariyaselvam, speaking to Reuters in Erbil, said the number of children coming out of Mosul had increased in the past few months as the battle reached its climax.

He explained the distinction between separated children, who are split from their legal guardians but are with friends or relatives, and unaccompanied children, who are alone and without care or guardians.

It was difficult to give an accurate number but child protection agencies have recorded more than 3,000 separated and over 800 unaccompanied children, he said. The latter are the priority.

The task of rescuing and identifying them begins in the field, with relief agency teams placed in strategic locations where people are fleeing. Registration points are set up. Mobile child protection teams also visit households. Then UNICEF and its local partners begin tracing the legal guardians or relatives.

“Our primary focus is care and protection for them. We try to make sure that they are provided immediate care,” he said.

In camps, they are usually placed with people on a temporary basis. If parents or other relatives cannot be identified, a legal process begins to put them in care homes with government permission. If all efforts fail, there is a foster program.

From the start, the children need specialized services such as psychological counseling. Some need mental health care. But the Iraqi government lacks sufficient resources or infrastructure to handle the challenge, Mariyaselvam said.

Mosul, which served as the capital of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria for three years, provided a particular set of problems. UNICEF and the government followed cases to ensure children were safe from abuse and exploitation once they were back in the community.

“The situation we are seeing is that some children are not being accepted by the community because of their affiliation,” he said, referring to the children of Islamic State fighters and supporters.

Some youngsters were roaming the city streets and some were being used as child labor, he said. Families who had lost their homes or fled could sometimes simply not cope.

“It is going to require a lot of time and a lot of resources and specialized services for them to rebuild their lives, including sending them back to school,” Mariyaselvam said.

And with the war still going on as Islamic State retreats and a government offensive to recapture the IS-held town of Tal Afar expected soon, a new wave of lost children is anticipated.


(Reporting by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Dale Hudson)


Villagers begin to mourn dead after deadly China landslide

Relatives of victims react at the site of a landslide in the village of Xinmo, Mao County, Sichuan Province, China June 26, 2017.

By Sue-Lin Wong

XINMO, China (Reuters) – Villagers in China visited what used to be their relatives’ homes on Monday to mourn loved ones lost when a landslide swept down a mountain, with little hope of finding anyone alive after more than 48 hours of fruitless searching.

At least 93 people are missing after the landslide engulfed Xinmo village in mountainous Sichuan province as dawn broke on Saturday. Ten people have been confirmed dead.

“Our house was somewhere around here but everything has been destroyed beyond recognition,” said a middle aged woman, one of a few residents who were away when disaster struck, after she pulled a green blanket she recognised out of the mud and rocks.

Rescue workers carry a victim at the site of a landslide that occurred in Xinmo Village, Mao County, Sichuan province, China, June 25, 2017.

Rescue workers carry a victim at the site of a landslide that occurred in Xinmo Village, Mao County, Sichuan province, China, June 25, 2017. China Daily via REUTERS

The government has sent some 3,000 rescuers, along with heavy digging equipment, and has promised to do all it can to look for survivors.

Heavy rain triggered the landslide, authorities have said.

Some villagers said they’ve always known landslides are a big danger but authorities never offered to help them move.

With danger of more landslides, authorities have been restricting access to the disaster zone, but hundreds of people were allowed back on Monday.

Mournful wails and firecracker explosions echoed through Xinmo’s steep valley as bereaved relatives returned, many clutching snacks and wrapped in plastic and bottles of wine as offerings for the dead.

Some people burned paper money and lit incense which, along with setting off fireworks, are traditional acts of mourning.

“Every single family has been impacted by the landslide, it’s horrible,” said Sun Danxian, from a neighbouring village who was walking through the site.

The government of Mao county, where the village is located, posted on Monday drone video footage of the area showing about dozen mechanical diggers shifting through a landscape of grey rocks.


Earlier on Monday, about 100 villagers, unhappy with what they said was limited information, met government officials at a nearby primary school, insisting they had to get to Xinmo.

They also voiced fears about the possibility of rebuilding homes before winter and what would happened to orphans.

“These government officials have been lying to us for three days,” a middle aged man from Xinmo, with several missing relatives told Reuters. He declined to give his name.

“They told us we could go back yesterday morning but they kept delaying and delaying giving us all kinds of excuses. They told us a central government official was going to come to visit us. He showed up and didn’t even bother to speak to us.”

Another relative said the government should have moved them out of an area they knew was prone to landslides.

“There have been landslides before but no one has ever suggested we move. The government knows it’s dangerous to live in these kinds of villages and yet they do nothing,” said the elderly man, who also would not provide his name.

The official China Daily cited Xu Qiang, a disaster expert at the Ministry of Land and Resources, as saying large-scale relocations in the area were difficult.

“Many of the villagers have been living here for generations and have seen no major geological disasters,” Xu said. “This is their home and livelihood and it is very difficult to convince them to leave, specially when you only have a hypothesis and predictions.”

Sichuan province is also prone to earthquakes, including an 8.0 magnitude tremor in central Sichuan’s Wenchuan county in 2008 that killed nearly 70,000 people.

Mao county is next to Wenchuan. State media said the mountainside that collapsed onto the village had been weakened by the 2008 earthquake.

Most residents of the area are poor farmers of the Qiang ethnic minority and the area is the target of a poverty alleviation project, according to government officials.

(Writing by Ben Blanchard and Christian Shepherd; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

Emotional reunion shows plight of Syria’s lost children

Hajar Saleh poses with her grandson Jaafar as she holds a picture depicting Jaafar's parents, Amina Saleh and her husband Imad Azouz who were killed fleeing Syria's civil war, at a garden in the Damascus district of Mezzeh,

By Dahlia Nehme

DAMASCUS (Reuters) – When Jaafar’s grandmother recognized him by his birthmark in a Turkish orphanage, months after his parents were killed fleeing Syria’s civil war, she held him tight, screaming for joy.

The story of how Hajar Saleh, a 47-year-old nurse, spent fraught weeks tracing her grandson in a foreign country and many months trying to bring him home underscores the terrible plight of Syria’s thousands of lost children and their families.

Jaafar was only three-months-old when his parents, Amina Saleh, 23, and her husband Imad Azouz, 25, decided to flee their home in the Sayeda Zeinab suburb of Damascus, close to a frontline, and seek a better life for their family abroad.

Palestinian refugees whose families had been in Syria for decades, they lacked legal travel documents, so they gathered their scant savings and paid a smuggler to guide them across the border into Turkey from an area held by Kurdish groups.

A last photograph Amina sent her mother before the attempted border crossing in January 2016 shows her smiling warily at the camera, wearing a heavy winter coat and black headscarf and holding Jaafar, a tiny pink baby in yellow romper suit.

But when they tried to cross the frontier a few hours later with dozens of other refugees in a smuggler convoy in northeast Syria, the Turkish border guards who battle Kurdish insurgents there opened fire. Amina and her husband were killed.

Little Jaafar escaped unscathed, protected by his father’s body, and was gathered up by survivors of the shooting and taken to the nearby Turkish city of Mardin, where they gave him into the care of a local judge.

Hajar’s account of the ill-fated border crossing comes from them and from what Turkish authorities told the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF, she said.

Before they left Mardin, some of the refugees phoned Hajar to inform her of the fate of her daughter and son-in-law, and to give her the name and phone number of the judge, the start of her months-long odyssey to reclaim her grandson.

“I still have two sons, but Amina was my only daughter. My friend and secret keeper,” said Hajar apologetically, as if to justify her frequent sobbing and the black clothes of mourning she still wears for the dead couple.


UNICEF told Reuters in March it had documented the cases of 650 separated children in 2016 alone, but that the likely number of undocumented cases was probably far higher.

Since the war began in 2011, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed and about half the country’s pre-war population made homeless, large numbers of them children.

After learning about her grandson’s plight, Hajar approached every local and international organization she could think of seeking help.

Eventually, UNICEF and the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR located Jaafar and secured travel documents for her to visit Turkey to pursue the legal process of proving kinship and claiming him.

“My daughter always came to me in my dreams and would beg me to bring her son back and raise him,” she said, speaking in the UNICEF headquarters in Damascus.

Little Jaafar, now 16-months-old, wide-eyed, smiling and well-groomed, was meanwhile snatching at everything in his reach and fidgeting to escape his grandmother’s lap for a few steps before quickly returning to her.

Hajar’s journey to the orphanage in Mardin was nearly over before it began, a victim to the chaos inflicted by the attempted coup d’etat in Turkey last summer, a day before she was scheduled to fly, which closed all the country’s airports.

With her Lebanese visa running out, Hajar only managed to fly to Ankara five days later with a day to spare before she would have been returned to Syria.

Unable to speak Turkish and having never traveled before, she was lost for five hours while changing flights in Istanbul before UNHCR officials found her and guided her onwards. After a 16-hour bus drive from Ankara, she finally reached Mardin.


As soon as Hajar saw Jaafar in the Cucuk Evleri Sitesi Mudurlugu orphanage, she recognized him by the prominent birthmark on his forehead, she said.

“I held him tight, crying and screaming in joy and I fainted afterwards,” she said. “When I woke up I held him tight again and sobbed. He stared at me. He didn’t cry or feel afraid. Instead he wiped my tears away,” she added.

With little money left and the weather turning colder, Hajar’s efforts to bring Jaafar home were further complicated by the Turkish government’s purge of the judiciary in the aftermath of the attempted coup, she said.

It took three months to prepare a DNA test and find a judge who could verify it and give her permission to take home her grandson.

“Every time a judge assumed my case, he would be replaced soon after,” she said.

The Turkish authorities told her where her daughter and son-in-law were buried in unmarked graves, but she was unable to visit them. Even when they finally tried to fly back in December, a blanket of heavy snow delayed their journey for days.

But now they have returned to her home in Sayeda Zeinab.

“Jaafar is full of energy and loves putting himself in trouble,” she said. “But for the sake of my daughter, I will raise him as well as I can.”

(Editing by Angus McDowall and Angus MacSwan)

Yemen orphanage braves nearby air strikes

Boys play football in the yard of The al-Shawkani Foundation for Orphans Care in Sanaa, Yemen, January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

By Khaled Abdullah

SANAA (Reuters) – After two years of war, orphans in the Yemeni capital Sanaa have only one dream – to survive.

The al-Shawkani Foundation for Orphan Care is located around 100 meters (yards) from the al-Nahdain mountain, widely believed to be an arms depot that has been repeatedly bombarded by Saudi-led coalition’s fighter jets.

Bombardment of the explosive-laden peak send huge mushroom clouds erupting into Sanaa’s skies and shake the whole city.

As the war rages on, the orphans suffer through a constant state of fear and trauma.

“We were scared, and every time we hear the plane’s noise, they (orphanage staff) would rush us quickly to the basement fearing for our safety,” said Mousa Saleh Munassar, 14.

“Many of my friends have left the orphanage and returned to their relatives,” he added. “I expect strikes nearby at any time.”

Mousa once dreamt of becoming a doctor, but describes the only dream he and his friends now share: “We want the war to calm down for us to see security and stability come back.”

Orphanage director Muhammad al-Qadhi says it relies on the generosity of private donors and charity groups.

But the war has devastated the economy and unleashed a humanitarian crisis, depleting savings and public resources.

“We are going through a pressing need for aid for these orphans amid the scarcity of resources that used to provide for them due to the ongoing war,” he said.

The foundation used to host around 350 orphans before the conflict began. Now only around one-third remain after most left for the relative safety of living with family members in the countryside.

Yemen’s conflict pits the Iran-allied Houthi movement and elements of the military against the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Saudi-led air strikes have repeatedly hit hospitals, homes and markets, but the kingdom denies targeting civilians.

Largely stalemated in nationwide battlefronts, the war has plunged millions into poverty, displaced millions of others and killed more than 10,000 people.

Children have born the brunt of the country’s collapse.

According to UNICEF, one child dies in Yemen every ten minutes from preventable diseases including malnutrition, respiratory infections and diarrhea.

Nine-year-old Abdulaziz Badr al-Faisari of the orphanage said he and his fellow orphans were terrified when bombs shake the whole building, but appeared resigned to his fate.

“We have had nowhere to flee.”

(Editing by Tom Heneghan)

In Mosul orphanage, Islamic State groomed child soldiers

Math and English textbooks found in Islamic State facility that trained children

By Stephen Kalin

MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) – When the boys first arrived at the Islamic State training facility in eastern Mosul they would cry and ask about their parents, who went missing when the militants rampaged through northern Iraq in 2014.

But as the weeks passed they appeared to absorb the group’s ultra-hardline ideology, according to a worker at the former orphanage where they were housed.

The children, aged from three to 16 and mostly Shi’ite Muslims or minority Yazidis, began referring to their own families as apostates after they were schooled in Sunni Islam by the militant fighters, he said.

The boys were separated from the girls and infants, undergoing indoctrination and training to become “cubs of the caliphate – a network of child informers and fighters used by the jihadists to support their military operations.

The complex in Mosul’s Zuhur district, which had been home to local orphans until they were kicked out by Islamic State, was one of several sites the jihadists used across the city.

It is now shuttered, its doors sealed with padlocks by Iraqi security forces.

Islamic State withdrew before Iraqi forces launched a U.S.-backed offensive in October to retake the city, but during a Reuters visit last month there were still reminders of the group’s attempt to brainwash dozens of children.

A saying attributed to the Prophet Mohammed is painted in black on one wall, urging children to learn to swim, shoot and ride horses. Inside the building is a swimming pool, now dry and full of rubbish.


In another room sits a stack of textbooks Islamic State had amended to fit its brutal ethos.

Arithmetic problems in a fourth grade maths book use imagery of warfare, while the cover bears a rifle made up of equations. History books focus exclusively on the early years of Islam and emphasize martial events.

Another textbook entitled “English for the Islamic State” includes ordinary words like apple and ant beside army, bomb and sniper. Martyr, spy and mortar also appear alongside zebra crossing, yawn, and X-box.

The word “woman” is depicted by a formless black figure wearing the full niqab covering. All faces in the books – even those of animals – are blurred, in keeping with an Islamic proscription against such images.

The orphanage worker, who was cowed into staying on after the militants took over in 2014, said girls who were brought to the center were often married off to the group’s commanders.

The man asked not to be named for fear of reprisals by Islamic State, which still controls the entire western half of Mosul. He was shot in the leg during recent clashes.

He said the militants, mostly Iraqis, taught the Shi’ite children how to pray in the tradition of Sunni Islam and forced the Yazidis to convert.

They memorized the Koran, were taught to treat outsiders as infidels and conducted physical exercise in the yard, which has since grown over.


A pair of colorful plastic slides and swing sets now sit untouched amid shattered glass, casings from a grenade launcher and a suicide bomber’s charred remains – signs of the militants’ fierce resistance as they retreated late last year.

Reuters could not independently verify the orphanage worker’s comments. But local residents gave similar accounts, and Islamic State has published numerous videos showing how it trains young fighters and even makes them execute prisoners.

New batches of children arrived at the Zuhur orphanage every few weeks from outside Mosul, including a few from neighboring Syria, while older boys were sent to the town of Tel Afar west of Mosul for intensive military training for duties including with Islamic State’s courts or vice squad, residents said.

“After six months at the camps, some of the boys came back to spend a weekend with their younger brothers. They were wearing uniforms and carrying weapons,” the orphanage worker said, fingering black and yellow prayer beads.

One of the boys, Mohammed, was killed last summer during the battle in the city of Falluja, west of Baghdad, he said, recounting how the other children wept upon learning the news.

A few weeks before the Mosul offensive began, Islamic State canceled lessons and sent the boys to guard an airfield near Tel Afar which pro-government forces later seized, he said.

“I told them, ‘If you see the army, drop your weapons and tell them you are orphans. Maybe they will spare your lives'”.

(Editing by Dominic Evans)

Japan revamps child welfare, tens of thousands still institutionalized

Children are seen through a window as they play at Futaba Baby Home in Tokyo

By Chang-Ran Kim

TOKYO (Reuters) – A baby lies in a metal-bar cot drinking from a bottle perched on his pillow in a Tokyo orphanage. There’s no one to hold and feed him or offer words of comfort.

The director of the institution, nurses scurrying busily around him, says he would like extra time and staff to pay more attention to the 70 babies and toddlers under his care, but it’s not going to happen.

“I wish we could hold them in our arms, one by one,” says Yoshio Imada. “Some people call this abuse. It’s a difficult situation.”

Japan last month passed a bill overhauling its 70-year-old Child Welfare Law, recognizing a child’s right to grow up in a family setting. It is short on specific, immediate measures, but experts say it’s a first step to making institutions a last resort, rather than the default position.

A staggering 85 percent of the 40,000 children who can’t live with their parents in Japan are institutionalized, by far the highest ratio among rich countries and prompting repeated warnings from the United Nations. Even with the revised law, Japan’s goal isn’t lofty: family-based care for a third of those children by 2029.

The statistics raise the question: where can foster parents be found for tens of thousands of children in need?

“We do the best we can but it’s obvious that a one-on-one relationship that foster parents provide is better,” says Kazumitsu Tsuru, who heads another infant institution in Tokyo.

“All children need someone who is dedicated only to them.”

A major hindrance is a lack of awareness about the fostering system – there are just 10,200 registered foster families, while adoptions are even rarer, at 544 last year. And in a society that treasures uniformity and blood ties, fostered or adopted children are often stigmatized.

A rise in reports of child abuse has also proved a stumbling block. Welfare workers are too busy taking children out of immediate harm. Placing them in institutions is faster than finding a foster family.

Too busy with the next victim, welfare workers also have little time to follow up with those children, leaving them to languish for years.


One foster mother knows all too well how harmful institutionalization can be.

Now 16, her foster son lulls himself to sleep by pounding his head against his pillow for several minutes. It’s a habit he picked up as an attention-starved child growing up in institutions until he turned six. He is a charming boy, his foster mother says, but erratic.

“When I call him out on something he does wrong, he lashes out at me as if he can do whatever he wants,” she says.

“He’ll do hateful things and at other times he’ll say, ‘Mummy, I love you,’ in a childish voice that’s not normal for a teenage boy. The emotional ups-and-downs wear you out.”

Another mother describes a child she took in from an institution at age five, just when he was beginning to realize he had no family. He flew into fits of rage at school and was afraid to leave the house. Needing to test his new family’s affection, he would ask: “Mummy, what would you do if I died?” At other times, he would beg to be fed milk out of a bottle in his foster mother’s lap.

The warehousing of Japan’s most vulnerable highlights the paradox in a country struggling with a stalled birthrate and ballooning social welfare costs as the population ages. Experts say institutionalization costs three times as much as fostering, and that Japan’s tight job market would be better-served by shifting those caregivers to daycare services to allow more women to work.

“I think the role of infant institutions will change,” says Tsuru, adding that, as the primary caregivers, institutions like his could help find babies a match in a foster or adoptive home.

“None of us wants to see a child stay longer here than they need to be.”

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

As Orphan Sunday Approaches, Christian Adoption Sees Hurdles

Thousands of American churches will be participating in Orphan Sunday this coming weekend aimed at raising awareness of children in need of finding a loving, Christian home.

However, many in the adoption movement say criticisms and actions by international governments to curb adoption numbers are hurting the movement.

Critics of Christians attempting to derail the ongoing adoption processes have used high profile incidents of adoption-related fraud and human trafficking as scare tactics. However, Judd Medefind of the Christian Alliance for Orphans who organize Orphan Sunday said that while they listen to critiques and take them to heart, their partners are eager to support a broad range of orphan-care programs.

Major Christian organizations have joined the call for Christians to adopt children in need such as Focus on the Family in 2007 and the Southern Baptist Convention in 2009.

The number of international adoptions by Americans has been falling over the last decade from 22,991 in 2004 to just 8,668 last year. However, the U.S. foster care system has around 100,000 children who need a home for Christians seeking to adopt a child domestically.

September Widows Luncheon at Morningside

James 1:27 says “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…”

On Monday September 26, Morningside hosted its monthly Widows Luncheon.  The Widows Luncheon is an outreach of Morningside Church to the widows and widowers of our community.  Those who attend are treated to lunch, provided by Morningside’s Fireside Cafe, followed by singing and fellowship. Continue reading