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Mozambique rescues kidnapped children: UNICEF

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Young boys are seen at a camp for internally displaced people in Metuge, northern Mozambique. (File photo by AFP)

The United Nations says Mozambique has rescued a number of children who had been abducted by the al-Shabab terrorist group to be forcefully recruited as child soldiers.

Last week, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said al-Shabab had kidnapped hundreds of boys in the northeast of Mozambique and forced them to join its ranks as child soldiers.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday that those children had been rescued by Mozambican government forces.

"Children have been rescued, not released" by the militants, UNICEF spokesman James Elder told reporters in Geneva.

He did not provide details, including on the number of the children rescued, but said, "In those areas... we consider thousands of children to be at risk and certainly no children so far have been released."

Elder said video material secured by armed forces in an abandoned training camp appeared to show abducted children as young as five "handling weapons and being indoctrinated to fight." UNICEF has not yet been able to verify the footage.

But Elder said that other recent reports of abductions had left "little doubt that children are being forcefully recruited by this non-state armed group."

"All feasible measures should be taken to ensure that children are demobilized, disengaged, or otherwise released, and provided with all appropriate protection services for their social reintegration," he added.

Under international legal standards, children associated with armed groups are primarily treated as survivors of violations.

UNICEF said it was working with the Mozambican government to support the physical and mental health of the children rescued and help with their safe reintegration into their communities.

Elder further said, "There are thousands of children who have been displaced" since the attacks in March, when the Daesh-linked al-Shabab militants killed dozens of people in the town of Palma in northern Mozambique. The attacks forced more than 67,000 people to abandon their homes.

The province of Cabo Delgado, where Palma is located, has since 2017 been the target of al-Shabab militants, who have been burning houses, beheading people, forcing some into their ranks, and holding others as sex slaves.

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.

He said UNICEF had certain evidence of sexual violence against and forced marriages of girls.

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