Government forces have rescued abducted children who were forcefully recruited by the Al-Shabab militant group in northern Mozambique, the United Nations said Tuesday.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) could not give further details on the numbers of youngsters involved, for fear of jeopardizing efforts to liberate more children.
“Children have been rescued, not released” by the militants, UNICEF spokesman James Elder told reporters in Geneva.
They were saved by “government forces,” he said.
Islamic State-linked al-Shabab has been terrorizing the southeast African country’s gas-rich Cabo Delgado region since 2017, raiding villages and towns in a bid to establish a caliphate.
The insurgency has grown bolder, with attacks including a coordinated raid on Palma in March 2021 that left dozens dead and displaced thousands.
Elder said that as humanitarian access to Cabo Delgado began to improve, there were increasing reports of abductions and the use of children in armed groups.
Children associated with armed groups are primarily treated as survivors of violations under international legal standards.
UNICEF said it was working with the Mozambican government to support the physical and mental health of rescued soldiers and aid their safe reintegration into their communities.
The UN agency has also been training the Mozambican forces in what to do should they encounter children with armed groups.
The insurgency has killed more than 3,300 people, half of them civilians, and displaced at least 800,000 from their homes over the past four years.
In July, Rwanda sent 1,000 troops to help Mozambique and several of the country’s neighbours, led by South Africa, have followed suit.