The warning from the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, came as access to relief efforts improved to previously inaccessible areas in Cabo Delgado Province.
“Unverified video secured by military forces in an abandoned training camp apparently shows kidnapped children as young as five wielding weapons and being indoctrinated to fight.” said UNICEF spokesman James Elder.
Under the occupation of al-Shabab militias, the gas-rich region witnessedone of the world’s fastest growing displacement crises, UN humanitarians have said.
Speaking to journalists at a regular briefing in Geneva, Mr Elder added that: other reports of young boys and girls abducted from their families and villages match the stories family members have told UNICEF field workers and partners. This leaves little doubt that children are forcibly recruited by this non-state armed group.”
When fighting broke out in March, humanitarian access to the district was completely blocked, including for tens of thousands of people who had fled the violence.
Many came from the coastal city of Palma, which were displaced after militants set up a surprise ambush that reportedly left dozens dead.
The UN agency said it and partners, including the UN World Food Program (WFP), the UN Migration Office (IOM) and partner organizations had “only very recently” been able to provide hygiene kits, water purification tablets, food and shelter to the displaced population in Palma with the help of the Mozambican authorities.
According to the WFP, the uprising in northern Mozambique has left at least 730,000 people in Cabo Delgado without access to their land and without the means to support themselves.
Food security data collected before the attacks in the city of Palma in late March 2021 indicated that nearly 228,000 people were highly insecure about food. “This number is expected to increase to 363,000 during the lean season starting in October,” the UN agency predicted.
Infringement of rights
Mr Elder explained that: the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict is a serious violation of international law, and that all young people recruited for this purpose should be treated as victims.
In addition to the loss of their families, he added that the young people have likely been subjected to extreme violence, sexual assault and kidnapping.
The affected children will also have missed education vital to their future well-being, the UNICEF spokesperson stressed, before pushing for “all feasible measures” to ensure they are “demobilized, disabled or otherwise released.” and provided with all appropriate protection services for their social reintegration”.
In a statement, UNICEF also welcomed an agreement signed with the Mozambican Ministry of Defense to increase protection measures for children affected by conflict in Mozambique.
“UNICEF continues to work with the government and partners to prepare the services rescued children desperately need to support their physical, mental health and psychosocial well-being, as well as safe reintegration into communities,” the agency said.