“I wish I could give you more details about the children saved, but of course we do not want to endanger the ongoing negotiations,” a spokesperson for the United Nations Children’s Fund said without further details. (Unicef) in Geneva, James Elder, during a press briefing.
Jihadist armed groups have been reigning terror since the end of 2017 in the predominantly Muslim province of Cabo Delgado, bordering Tanzania, rich in natural gas but poor.
Last week, the NGO Human Rights Watch said hundreds of children had been kidnapped by jihadists and then trained in camps to become combatants.
Mr. Elder confirmed the existence of these child soldiers, without however being able to give figures.
“All we can say is that thousands of children have been displaced to these places and are at risk,” he said.
No children were released by their captors, but “government forces rescued the children,” he said without giving details, noting that Unicef was working with other humanitarian actors to provide assistance.
He also indicated that girls had also been kidnapped and suffered violence: “we have evidence of sexual violence against girls, we have evidence of forced marriage of girls.”
Southern African countries launched a regional military mission, Sanim, in August to help Mozambique fight jihadist insurgents, known locally as Al-Shabab (“the youth” in Arabic), and regain control of the province.
“As areas previously occupied by jihadists become accessible, unverified video material obtained by the armed forces at an abandoned training camp apparently shows abducted children as young as five handling weapons and to be indoctrinated in combat “, explained the spokesperson for Unicef.
Other recent reports of abducted children match accounts given by family members to UNICEF field staff and partners, he said.