Children as young as 11 are being slaughtered in the Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, an international aid agency, Save the Children, said on Tuesday.
The oil-rich region has been bedevilled by violence since 2017, with armed gangs sacking villages and towns. Nearly 670,000 people have been displaced, the agency said.
That figure is almost seven times the number reported a year ago. At least 2,614 people have died in the conflict, including 1,312 civilians.
The situation has seriously deteriorated over the past 12 months, with the escalation of attacks on villages.
A woman named Elsa told Save the Children how her son Felipe was beheaded in her presence after being taken out of their hiding place.
“That night our village was attacked and houses were burned. When it all started, I was at home with my four children,” Elsa said. “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.”
Another mother, whose name was given as Amelia, recounted how her fourth child was 11 when he was murdered by armed men.
The agency said it changed the name of the women for their protection.
Amelia said her family had to flee, surviving on banana and water from banana trees for days before they got help.
“After my 11-year-old son was killed, we understood that it was no longer safe to stay in my village,” Amelia told Save the Children. “We fled to my father’s house in another village, but a few days later the attacks started there too. I, my father and the children spent five days eating green bananas and drinking banana tree water until we got transport that brought us here.”
The agency said it is outraged and deeply saddened by the killing of children in the conflict.
Apart from the violence, Cabo Delgado is still reeling from consecutive climatic shocks, including 2019’s Cyclone Kenneth, the strongest cyclone to hit the northern part of Mozambique, and massive floods in early 2020.
“Reports of attacks on children sicken us to our core. Our staff have been brought to tears when hearing the stories of suffering told by mothers in displacement camps,” Chance Briggs, Save the Children’s Country Director in Mozambique, said. “This violence has to stop, and displaced families need to be supported as they find their bearings and recover from the trauma.
“A major concern for us is that the needs of displaced children and their families in Cabo Delgado far outweigh the resources available to support them. Nearly a million people are facing severe hunger as a direct result of this conflict, including displaced people and host communities.”