In a historic move to bring back to Iraq the Yazidis kidnapped by Islamic State and taken to Syria, the Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council announced it will allow children of Yazidi women born to IS members into the community.
The council said in a statement Wednesday the decision was made to end years of debate over the issue of children born to IS fathers.
"The Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council issued a verdict to accept all survivors and accept that what happened to them was out of their control," according to the statement, signed by Hazim Tahseen Said, the son of late Yazidi chief Mir Tahseen Said Beg.
In 2014, the top Yazidi spiritual leader, Baba Sheikh, decided to welcome Yazidi women back into their faith, but the fate of the children born to IS fighters remained uncertain.
"The council has sent a committee of clerics to Syria to investigate the issue of kidnapped women and men after defeating IS to find them and bring them home," the statement added.
Yazidis, an ethno-religious minority group of about 550,000 people, mostly reside in northern Iraq, in an area also populated by Kurds and Arabs. They are an insular group, keeping mostly to themselves.
Marrying someone from another religion is an unpardonable sin in the Yazidi religion. Similarly, having extramarital relationships, even under duress, is thought to taint the bodies and souls of the community members, according to the religion.
When Islamic State fighters attacked the community in August 2014, roughly 5,000 men and boys were murdered and thousands of women and children were enslaved. IS regarded the Yazidis as "devil worshippers," using women as sex slaves and brainwashing their children to become suicide bombers.
Consequently, when hundreds of Yazidis began escaping enslavement during IS's retreat, the female victims found themselves stigmatized by their communities upon their return.
"We uphold to the international community that Yazidis have throughout history been victims and we treat every survivor with pride, humanity, clarity," the council said, asking for international support in returning victims who are still stranded in Syria.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the territorial defeat of IS in March, saying it rescued about 850 Yazidi women and children since 2015 during its battles with IS.
Yazidi officials and advocacy groups, however, say more than 3,000 abducted members of their community are still missing.
"Since the start of Baghuz battle, about 150 women and their children were freed," said Saad Bapir, a spokesperson to the Yazidi Nadia Murad Initiative and board member of Yazda Organization, referring to the U.S.-backed offensive against IS's last stronghold in eastern Syria.
"According to our information, there are 3,100 women and children still missing," Bapir added.
Bapir said the Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council's decision Wednesday was a historic move to ensure the return of the victims and a landmark change for a religious minority that has previously rejected children born to outsiders.
"This is an important statement because the Yazidi community is a conservative one and the spiritual leadership is trying to encourage a more peaceful and accepting stance toward these women and their children because what happened to these women wasn't in their control," Bapir told VOA. "They went through rape, abuse and enslavement, and they need their community now."
As the women and children return home following the religious verdict, the next challenge for their community will be helping them recover from the trauma of life under IS, Bapir said.
He said outside help likely will be needed, as most members of the community live in refugee camps because their towns were destroyed by IS war.
"These women need rehabilitation and treatment in a Western country. About 1,100 Yazidi women survivors were transferred to Germany and received treatment. Many of them are now living normal lives," he added.