More than 600 women and girls have been kidnapped and enslaved in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province by an armed group linked to the Islamic State (ISIS) since 2018, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Tuesday in a statement.
Since October 2017, Al-Shabab rebels have attacked numerous villages, killed more than 2,500 people, and destroyed extensive civilian property and infrastructure, including schools and health centers in Cabo Delgado.
More than 800,000 people have been displaced since April 2020, following an escalation in the violence.
According to HRW, Mozambican and regional forces have rescued some of them, but the whereabouts of many others remain unknown.
The statement comes after HRW interviewed 37 people, including former abductees, their relatives, security sources, and government officials, and monitored media reports about, between August 2019 and October 2021.
They told HRW that Al-Shabab abducted women and girls during attacks in various Cabo Delgado districts, including Mocímboa da Praia in March, June, and August 2020, and Palma in March 2021.
The group, known locally as Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah (ASWJ) and Al-Shabab (or mashababos) forced younger, healthy-looking, and lighter-skinned women and girls in their custody to “marry” their fighters, who enslave and sexually abuse them, the lobby group said in a statement.
Others have been sold to foreign fighters for between $600 to $1,800, abducted foreign women and girls, in particular, have been released after their families paid ransom.
“Al Shabab’s leaders should immediately release every woman and girl in their captivity,” HRW quoted its Africa director Mausi Segun as saying.
“They should take all necessary steps to prevent rape and sexual abuse by their fighters, end child marriage, forced marriage, and the sale and enslavement of women and girls at their bases and areas of operation,” the statement further said.