Human Rights Watch (HRW) Wednesday said that children are being trained and deployed to fight against government forces in northern Mozambique.
The lobby group revealed that Al-Shabaab, the Islamic State (ISIS)-linked armed group in northern Mozambique, has been kidnapping boys and sending them to war in violation of the international prohibition on the use of child soldiers.
The HRW report indicated that the armed group has abducted hundreds of young boys, some aged as young as 12, and has been training them in bases across Cabo Delgado province.
In the town of Palma, parents said that they had witnessed their sons wielding guns when they came to raid the village alongside other fighters.
HRW spoke on phone to four parents whose sons were kidnapped and deployed to the war, a former child soldier, and two witnesses of the child abuses.
The child soldier and witnesses had escaped from the Shabaab training base in the town of Mbau, where they had been held captive for several weeks, HRW said.
“Their accounts are consistent with media reports that the armed group was kidnapping boys and deploying them as fighters.
“Using children in fighting is cruel, unlawful, and should never take place,” said Mausi Segun, the HRW Africa director.
Reports of children who had been kidnapped and deployed in war in Mozambique are not new.
In June 2021, the humanitarian organisation, Save the Children, estimated that non-state armed groups in Cabo Delgado had abducted at least 51 children over the past year, most of them girls.
A local group, Observatório do Meio Rural (OMR), reported that kidnapped boys were expanding the ranks of armed groups in the area.
In July, Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states started deploying forces to assist the Mozambican Defence Force fight insurgency and terrorism in Cabo Delgado province.
Rwanda was the first country to send 1,000 troops to Mozambique, Botswana followed with a contingent of 296 while South Africa deployed 1,500 soldiers.
Zimbabwe also sent 304 military instructors to train Mozambican soldiers to fight the insurgents.
Angola is also part of the SADC Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM), alongside Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
By the end of July, Rwandan soldiers said they had killed at least 30 insurgents.
On August 8, Rwandan forces regained control of the key northern port town of Mocimboa da Praia from the militants.
On Monday, Mozambique government said it needs $300 million to reconstruct the insurgency-hit Cabo Delgado.
According to Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosário, who announced the figures during a meeting with international cooperation partners, the funds will be used in districts that have been freed from occupation and terrorist actions in recent years.
“The funds will be used in an emergency plan for post-conflict recovery that intends to create conditions for the reconstruction and normal functioning of the recovered districts in the north of Cabo Delgado.
“With the recovery of Quissanga, Mocímboa da Praia, Palma and Muidumbe districts by the joint force, part of the population forced to flee is already returning,” the PM added.
Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi and Rwanda's Paul Kagame have defended the deployment of the joint forces, saying it was necessary to counter the rising threat of terrorism and insecurity after the insurgents linked to the Islamic State group took control of most of the five districts in Cabo Delgado in the four years since 2017.
During the meeting, Mozambique government cooperation partners agreed to deepen the plan and evaluate ways to mobilise funds for financing.