Increased Minors’ Beheadings in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Raises Fear of Childhood Trauma

A woman at an IDP camp in Cabo Delgado

Children as young as 11 years old are being murdered in Mozambique’s embattled Province of Cabo Delgado, an international charity organization that deals with minors has said, expressing fear that the ongoing tragedy will leave a permanent mark on the children in the country.

In a recent report, Save the Children has noted that children are witnessing gruesome murders of their peers in the region, including beheadings.

“Save the Children is outraged and deeply saddened by reports that children are being targeted in this conflict,” the agency says in a report published Tuesday, March 16.

It adds, “For the children who may have witnessed their siblings being murdered, their suffering could last for years. Many may experience anxiety and depression or even signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

The organization, which works to ensure that children, especially those in vulnerable backgrounds, are protected from abuse, neglect and exploitation, notes that every child has the right to life and safety.


“Children must be protected under all circumstances, including war and armed conflicts,” the agency reports.

Save the Children has obtained reports from members of displaced families who recounted alarming scenes of murder and grief and the loss of loved ones.

In one of the horrifying reports, one mother, Elsa, 28, spoke of her eldest child, Filipe, 12, being beheaded near to where she was hiding with her other three children.

“That night our village was attacked and houses were burned. When it all started, I was at home with my four children. 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,” the aggrieved mother told the children’s organization.

Amelia, 29, another respondent who spoke to the agency is currently seeking shelter in her brother’s home with her three children.

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Amelia’s fourth child, Save the Children reports, was 11 when he was murdered by armed men, and her mother says she is heartbroken because she did not have the chance to say goodbye or give her son a proper burial.

“After my 11-year-old son was killed, we understood that it was no longer safe to stay in my village. We fled to my father's house in another village, but a few days later the attacks started there too. Me, my father and the children spent five days eating green bananas and drinking banana tree water until we got transport that brought us here,” Amelia recounts in the March 16 report.

More than 2,500 people have been killed and 700,000 have fled their homes since the insurgency began in 2017.

“The situation has seriously deteriorated over the past 12 months, with the escalation of attacks on villages,” the organization reports, adding that Cabo Delgado is also 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.

Save the Children is responding to the urgent needs of both conflict- and cyclone-displaced children and their families in Cabo Delgado.


Information available on the Save the Children website indicates that the organization’s response has reached over 70,000 people, including over 50,000 children, with education, child protection, health (including COVID-19 measures), and water and sanitation programming.

Chance Briggs, Save the Children’s Country Director in Mozambique, says that the experiences of children in the warrying country are heartbreaking.

“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. This violence has to stop, and displaced families need to be supported as they find their bearings and recover from the trauma,” Mr. Biggs says in the March 16 report.

He adds, “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.”

The Save the Children official notes that nearly a million people are facing severe hunger as a direct result of the ongoing conflict, including displaced people and host communities.

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He says that while the world was focused on COVID-19, the Cabo Delgado crisis ballooned but has been grossly overlooked.

“Humanitarian aid is desperately required, but not enough donors have prioritized assistance for those who have lost everything, even their children,” Mr. Biggs says.

The Save the Children official urges all parties involved in the conflict to “ensure that children are never targets.”

“They (parties) must respect international humanitarian and human rights laws and take all necessary actions to minimize incidental civilian harm, including ending indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against children,” the official says.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.