Gunmen in conflict-hit northern Mozambique abducted dozens of children during raids in 2020, according to a new analysis by Save the Children.
The charity said in a report on Wednesday the “abduction of children has become a new and alarmingly regular tactic by armed groups” in Cabo Delgado province, where worsening fighting over the past three-and-a-half years has killed nearly 3,000 people and displaced more than 700,000, half of whom are children.
Save the Children said “at least 51 children, most of them girls” were seized by non-state armed groups in the region last year, adding that the numbers involved were likely “far higher” than its estimates, which were based on data collected by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project and reflected only reported cases.
It warned that the victims are at risk of sexual violence, early marriage and being used as fighters in the conflict.
“Being abducted, witnessing abductions, experiencing attacks, being forced to flee from armed groups – these are extremely traumatising events for young children and adolescents,” said Chance Briggs, the Mozambique country director for Save the Children.
Attacks by an armed group known locally as al-Shabab have steadily increased in the Cabo Delgado province since October 2017.
The sophistication of the attacks has increased, too.
The fighters linked to ISIL (ISIS) have ransacked towns and gained control of key roadways, destroying infrastructure and beheading civilians. In some cases, they have forced locals into their ranks or held them as slaves.
Since August 2020, the fighters have been in control of the key port town of Mocimboa da Praia, while in March, they launched a coordinated assault on Palma town, killing dozens and forcing more than 67,000 to abandon their homes.
Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had registered more than 2,600 appeals in Mozambique between September 2020 and April 2021 from people who lost track of family members, most of whom are young adults and children.
“There is a very high number of unaccompanied children [who are] extremely vulnerable to all kinds of abuses and exploitation,” said James Matthews, deputy head of the ICRC’s mission in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo.