The children's charity Save the Children is reporting that children as young as 11 are being beheaded in Mozambique's Cabo Delgado province where Islamists are fighting government troops.
“We tried to escape to the woods, but they took my eldest son and beheaded him. We couldn't do anything because we would be killed too,” a mother named Elsa told the aid group. She is still in hiding with her other three children. Her eldest was 12.
Violence has escalated in Mozambique's Cabo Delgado province since jihadists, who say they are aligned with al-Shabab, started fighting in the region in 2017. At least 2,500 have been killed over the three-year period.
Elsa and her family are part of the nearly 670,000 people who have fled after their villages were attacked and houses burned. Another displaced woman, Amelia, 29, is staying with her three children in her brother's home.
She said she is heartbroken she couldn't even give her 11-year-old son a proper funeral after he was beheaded.
They fled two places before getting to her brother's house.
Violence and storms
“Me, my father and the children spent five days eating green bananas and drinking banana tree water until we got transport that brought us here,” according to the interviews conducted by Save the Children.
The aid group fears that this level of violence, coupled with the aftermath of 2019 Cyclone Kenneth and massive flooding, could contribute to children suffering long-lasting effects, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“This violence has to stop, and displaced families need to be supported as they find their bearings and recover from the trauma,” said Chance Briggs, Save the Children Mozambique country director.
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He said that there is not enough humanitarian aid to help the displaced in the region.
“While the world was focused on Covid-19, the Cabo Delgado crisis ballooned but has been grossly overlooked… not enough donors have prioritised assistance for those who have lost everything, even their children,” he added.
Military expertise from the US
In a related development, the United States military is sending Special Forces to Mozambique for two months to train the country's military in combatting jihadists.
The announcement comes after the US added the jihadists to the international terrorist watch list last week.
Mozambique has come under fire for its use of private military companies to fight against the insurgents, as human rights groups point out that the military and private militia as well as the insurgents have been accused of abuses against the civilian population.
The US embassy said civilian protection would be a priority in the training program, along with community involvement and human rights to fight what it called the Islamic State in Mozambique.
This news comes shortly after the announcement out of Maputo that attacks in the region were on the decline.