At least 51 children, most of them girls, have been abducted by non-state armed groups in the northern Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado over the past 12 months, an NGO reported on Wednesday.
The figure could be higher as it only reflects reported cases, Save the Children said.
“There is currently no verified data available to show the number of children who have managed to escape their captors, or the number of children still missing,” the NGO said.
Children have been abducted on their own, or in large groups, its analysis found. They have been taken while in the open, or from their homes, many of which were subsequently burned. Many of the children have also witnessed atrocities while being taken away by the attackers.
In one attack on June 5, 2020, an armed group beheaded 11 people and abducted seven girls.
“Save the Children’s analysis of violence in Cabo Delgado, drawing on data collected by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), shows that the abduction of children has become a new and alarmingly regular tactic by armed groups involved in the conflict.”
Before 2020, there were no records of intentional child killings or kidnappings by groups in Cabo Delgado.
“Save the Children’s analysis reveals a series of incidents where children have been targeted for abduction, sometimes in large groups,” it said, adding: “Save the Children calls for the immediate release of all abducted children and for the perpetrators to be held to account.”
Cabo Delgado, which shares a border with Tanzania, is plagued by instability and terror attacks that have left thousands dead and nearly 700,000 displaced.
Insecurity in the region began in October 2017 with attacks on police stations in Mocimboa da Praia District, before it spread to other districts in the northern part of Cabo Delgado, notably in Macomia, Palma and Nangade.
Islamic State-linked militants launched attacks on the northeastern coastal town of Palma on March 24, ransacked buildings and beheaded civilians.
Thousands of people fled into the surrounding forest. The attack has prompted a surge in the number of refugees fleeing violence in the area.
Known locally as Al-Shabaab, but with no relation to the Somali-based terror group by the same name, the militants in Cabo Delgado have launched a series of brazen raids on towns and villages in an apparent bid to establish an Islamic caliphate.
At least 700,000 people, including at least 364,000 children, are now displaced in the provinces of Cabo Delgado, Nampula, Niassa, Sofala and Zambezia as a result of violence and insecurity.
At least 2,852 people have reportedly died in the conflict, including 1,409 civilians, although this number includes only reported deaths and it is expected the true number is much higher.
Cabo Delgado is also still reeling from consecutive climatic shocks, including 2019’s Cyclone Kenneth, the strongest tropical storm to hit the northern part of Mozambique, and massive floods in early 2020.