Dozens of children feared missing after escalation of violence in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado

15 March 2024

At least 86 children are still missing after a wave of attacks by armed groups in Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique.

The cases have been registered at a helpdesk run by child rights non-governmental organisation (NGO) Plan International in Erati, Nampula province, where thousands have fled over the last few weeks from Cabo Delgado’s Chiure district.

A total of 170 cases have been registered with the NGO, with around half of these children now reunited with their families.

“For the sake of children in Cabo Delgado, we call for an immediate end to this conflict.”

Majo Joseph, Plan International Mozambique Safeguarding Specialist

In a heartbreaking account, one 38-year-old mother, Filomena, told Plan International how 2 of her children were swept away, and are now missing, as they attempted to cross the Lurio river to reach safety after armed men arrived at their home.

Another mother, Amina, 33, recounted witnessing her child being blown to pieces by a grenade.

“Children in Cabo Delgado are being robbed of their childhoods in the most horrific way,” said Majo Joseph, Plan International Mozambique Safeguarding Specialist, currently stationed in Erati.

Children pay the price of conflict

“This conflict, which is now in its 7th year, continues to take an unimaginable toll with children paying a price that is far too high. Accurately tracking the true number of children who have been killed, forced to flee their homes, missing or who are separated from their parents, is very difficult – but those who we have met are deeply traumatised.”

Describing the conditions where many displaced families are now living, Joseph continued: “I see families sleeping in classrooms without access to water and food, without separate spaces for men and women, placing girls and young women in particular at high risk of sexual and gender-based violence.”

“Plan International condemns all grave violations against children in conflict and calls on all parties to respect International Humanitarian Law. For the sake of children in Cabo Delgado, we call for an immediate end to this conflict.”

An attack in February in Chiure, a district of Cabo Delgado which had previously been a relatively safe haven from fighting between armed groups and security forces, has forced 110,000 people to flee their homes.

Young people are at substantial risk

“Children in Cabo Delgado are being robbed of their childhoods in the most horrific way.”

Majo Joseph, Plan International Mozambique Safeguarding Specialist

There is a growing fear that young girls separated from their families are at substantial risk of sexual abuse and exploitation, while boys are particularly vulnerable to the risk of recruitment by armed groups.

The risk of health issues like diarrhoea is another significant concern. An outbreak of conjunctivitis has been identified recently among the displaced population, worsened by a shortage of medical treatment.

Many of those who have fled their homes due to recent violence have already been displaced from their homes previously, and have repeatedly faced hardship due to the conflict which has been ongoing since 2017.

Scaling up humanitarian response

Plan International Mozambique, which has had a presence in Cabo Delgado since 2021, is scaling up its humanitarian response with a focus on delivering life-saving aid to children and their families and preventing exploitation and abuse.

This support includes cash assistance to help families purchase food and other essential supplies and establishing child-friendly spaces to provide psychological support for children who have witnessed violence. Plan International staff are also working to identify unaccompanied children and provide legal and counselling support.

Plan International is urgently seeking additional funds to expand its response and is appealing for a total of 2 million euros.

Emergencies, Protection from violence, Child protection in emergencies, Gender-based violence, Water and sanitation