One year on, children bear the mental scars of Islamic State’s brutal reign in Mosul

Mosul One Year On Dina 2
Dina leaves her home to head to her classes in Mosul (Sam Tarling / Save the Children)

Children in conflicts, Education in emergencies, Safe schools, Safe Schools Declaration

Many don't feel safe at school and live in fear for their lives, says a report on the devastated Iraqi city.

Dina is a 12-year-old orphan who lives in the Iraqi city of Mosul. During Islamic State’s brutal reign of terror there, she was out of school for three years.

She saw horrific violence – and a radical change in her education.

“At school, instead of teaching us maths, they used to teach us about missiles and bullet shots, slaughtering,” said Dina*.

“I stopped going there because I worried about my future. ISIS even killed a friend of mine because she stood up to them. They shot her with a gun and she died.”

It is now a year since Mosul was retaken from the terror group. But children and adolescents are still struggling to cope with their fears that nowhere is safe, according to a report by Save the Children.

Mosul One Year On 2

Rahaf*, 10, is photographed in West Mosul, Iraq (Sam Tarling / Save the Children)

The charity said young people are living most of the time in fear for their lives. They often relive memories of devastation, displacement, bombing and extreme violence.

Half of the schools in the conflict-affected areas in and around Mosul have been destroyed. In western Mosul, 62 schools are completely destroyed and 207 damaged, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Many young people are reporting serious emotional problems, depression and extreme anxiety and have been pushed to breaking point, said Save the Children’s report Picking Up the Pieces.

The survey of over 250 adolescents found:

  • Almost half felt grief all or a lot of the time
  • Fewer than one in 10 could think of something happy in their lives
  • A third said they never felt safe at school
  • More than 80% did not feel safe walking alone and almost half did not feel safe away from their parents
  • 39% of parents and caregivers said they knew of adolescents self-harming, while 29% said they had heard about adolescent suicide attempts increasing
I wake up and I witness war every day. I don’t want to go through another war. I don’t want other children to become orphans - it is enough that I am an orphan in this world. Rahaf, 10, who lost her parents and sister in an airstrike on Mosul

“Internalising issues could put children at further risk of poor self-esteem, isolation and suicidal behaviour, and exacerbate their symptoms of depression and anxiety,” said Save the Children Iraq Country Director Ana Locsin said.

“Unless children’s sense of safety is re-established, and parents are given support to help themselves and their families, children will remain distressed, leaving them at serious risk of further and long-lasting mental health issues.”

Dana, who lives with her aunt, did stand up to Islamic State once. When fighters stopped her in the street for not wearing a hijab, she answered them back. As a punishment, they cut off her hair.

She was so scared by the incident that she became withdrawn, depressed and isolated. 

“I didn’t go to school. I wasn’t allowed to go out,” she said. “ISIS accused me of committing a sin. They didn’t allow me to go out.

Mosul One Year On 1

Aya, seven, holds her sister Dalia, two, in West Mosul, Iraq (Sam Tarling / Save the Children)

“I got bored staying at home, I didn’t go out of the house and didn’t have any friends. 

Save the Children helped her – and many others like her – with psychosocial support. The charity got her enrolled in school again and provided her with books, bags, stationery and a uniform. 

Over time Dina’s condition improved and she is now comfortable in the presence of strangers and is making friends again at school.

Others are not doing as well. Twelve-year-old Fahad* from West Mosul now attends a school with damaged walls and no doors. 

“I don’t feel good in the class,” he said. “In this area, a sniper targeted the children so that when the mothers and fathers came to rescue them, he would shoot the whole family. 

“The school got badly hit and the area became a frontline. The whole street became a frontline.”

* Names have been changed.

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