Mozambique is at risk of being overwhelmed by a children's trauma crisis as thousands of girls and boys flee a brutal insurgency where they have witnessed beheadings, forced marriage and displacement, warns humanitarian agency World Vision.
More than 800,000 people have now fled their homes in Cabo Delgado in the north of the country, where non-state armed groups are brutalising the population with atrocities that are emotionally scarring children and leaving them as orphans. It is estimated that girls and boys make up about 50% of them.
The situation is so bad that aid agencies say they need much more support to help children deal with what they have witnessed and to prevent girls from suffering sexual abuse in their desperate search for food that is forcing many to sell themselves to survive.
Many are struggling with lack of food and are also in dire need of psychosocial support, which World Vision says is still not being provided at anything like the required level.
"One need is as critical as another", says Simione Mhula, World Vision's Child Protection Specialist in Mozambique. "On one hand, you have the lack of food, which leads to young girls being sexually exploited in return for food, as our staff have found first hand in Nampula, a province, where scores have sought refuge", Simione says.
"On the other hand, we have girls and boys who have been left seriously distressed after witnessing the most horrific violence. They have seen their loved ones being beheaded or girls abducted and forced to marry their attackers when their villages were raided", adds Simione.
That is the case for Ancha (last name withheld to protect identity), a seven-year-old girl, who carries the distress of witnessing her own mother being brutally killed.
Coquinha, the woman who rescued her says "She was kneeling, crying, and shaking. She was desperately trying to wake up her mother who was lying down dead with her head cut off. I could not leave her behind. I just grabbed her, and we moved on."
"No child should have to endure such violence, yet this has been the experience of too many children due to the Cabo Delgado situation. The international community must act fast and provide more funds to ensure these children and all the people who have been displaced have the support they need", Simione adds.
World Vision has been responding to the impact of the conflict in northern Mozambique by supporting displaced communities in Nampula and Zambezia provinces. Interventions have consisted of provision of food rations and water and sanitation materials in partnership with Unicef and the World Food Programme. World Vision has also trained 700 faith leaders to provide psychosocial support to children and adults.
As it scales up its humanitarian assistance, World Vision needs US$5 million to support ongoing efforts.
Families in Cabo Delgado province had already suffered the devastating effects of Cyclone Kenneth (2019) and restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19 before the escalation of violence.
World Vision has spokespeople available for comment. Contact Antonio Matimbe, Communications Manager, World Vision Mozambique to arrange interviews:
Phone: +258 845363469 / +258 865363469