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, according to new analysis by Save the Children. With figures only reflecting reported cases, the true number of child abductions is estimated to be far higher.

Over the past year, more than 50 children have been abducted in Cabo Delago, Mozambique.

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. Prior to 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. In one attack on 7 January 2021, 21 people were abducted in a group, including six children. In that same incident, at least seven fishermen were beheaded. In another attack on 9 June 2020, ten girls were abducted while drawing water from a local well.

Save the Children is deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of these children, some of whom have been taken from their parents over a year ago. The agency is playing a crucial role protecting unaccompanied and separated children and reuniting them with their families, as well as creating community-based systems to protect children from exploitation.

Children have been abducted on their own, or in large groups, Save the Children 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. On one attack on 5 June 2020, an armed group beheaded 11 people and abducted seven girls.

Being abducted, witnessing abductions, experiencing attacks, being forced to flee from armed groups – these are extremely traumatizing events for young children and adolescents. Our hearts go out to these children and their families, many of whom have been separated now for a year or more.

Chance Briggs Save the Children’s Country Director for Mozambique

“All parties to this conflict must ensure that children are never targets. They must do their utmost to minimise civilian harm, including ending indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against children. Better yet, ending the conflict can end these violations against children and their rights.”

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 is only reported deaths and it’s expected the true number is much higher. Cabo Delgado is also still reeling from consecutive climatic shocks, including 2019’s Cyclone Kenneth, the strongest cyclone to hit the northern part of Mozambique, and massive floods in early 2020.

Save the Children and its partners are responding in support of displaced children and their families in Cabo Delgado. They have reached over 148,000 people, including over 86,000 children that have been displaced by both the conflict and  cyclone Kenneth that struck in 2019, with education and health services, food and livelihoods improvement, and water and sanitation programming.

Save the Children has also been providing child protection programming, including family tracing and reunification (for unaccompanied and separated children), and mental health and psychosocial support for separated and unaccompanied children, child victims of abuse, and those showing signs of profound traumatic impacts as the result of the conflict.