PEMBA, Mozambique, 17 May: Rates of early marriage have substantially increased amongst children forced by conflict into displacement camps and crowded homes across the Cabo Delgado region in Northern Mozambique, according to new data released today by Save the Children.
Between January and March 2022, the agency recorded 108 cases of child marriage in the Pemba, Metuge, Chiure, and Montepuez districts of Cabo Delgado, compared to 65 cases between October and December 2021. Between January and March, the number of children newly married steadily increased, from 6 children in January, 32 in February and 70 in March.
Now in its fifth year with no immediate end in sight, the conflict in Cabo Delgado has taken a devastating human toll, with repeated reports of beheadings and kidnapping, including many child victims.
The data on child marriage comes through Save the Children’s child protection programme, which supports children experiencing serious risks to their health and wellbeing issues - including child marriage, neglect and mental health issues. The worrying rise in child marriage is the result of a combination of factors, including the continued distress many of the families have been facing living in transit centres or the challenges of starting new life from scratch in areas. Many parents face the devastating choice of being unable to feed their family or house all their children, and instead have to let them be married to lighten the load on the family.
Cabo Delgado already has the second highest rate of child marriage and the highest rate of adolescent pregnancy in Mozambique —65% of adolescents aged 15-19 are already mothers or pregnant.
Since 2017, conflict in Cabo Delgado province has led to the displacement of 784, 564 people, including about 370,000 children. Now nearly 1 in every 3 people are internally displaced and many have had to flee their homes multiple times. The crisis has left 1.5 million people in need, and there are continuing reports of grave human and child rights violations, including killings, abductions, recruitment and use of children by armed groups.
Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International, is in Cabo Delgado this week. She said:
“Meeting displaced children and their families this week in Cabo Delgado and hearing what they’ve been through – the suffering, the trauma, the horror, the displacement – has been sobering. Cabo Delgado was already the worst place in Mozambique to be a child before this conflict began; now, with massive displacement and horrific abuses, things are much worse. Girls are particularly vulnerable and are being married off at an alarmingly high rate.
“Nearly half a million children have fled violence and find themselves sharing homes with distant relatives, sometimes over a dozen in a single small dwelling. They are out of school, their parents have no jobs, and there is not enough healthcare, food or water. The situation is unsustainable and desperate.
“More funds are urgently needed to address the immediate needs of children and communities, while building sustainable funding streams to work towards longer term solutions for lasting resilience and to build and maintain peace.”
The security situation in Cabo Delgado remains volatile and unpredictable, with terrifying attacks on communities by armed men ongoing. In January, at least 14,200 people, including at least 6,800 children, fled their homes following further attacks including beheadings and kidnappings. Between 23 and 29 March, an additional 4,169 people were displaced, nearly half of whom were children. Of those displaced, 72% live in host communities, while 28% live in squalid displacement camps.
Save the Children is a major responder to the crisis in Cabo Delgado, reaching about 302,000 people, including nearly 174,000 children in 2021. This was through life-saving and life-sustaining support to internally displaced people, host communities and families, through child protection, education, health, nutrition, livelihoods and water, sanitation and hygiene interventions, as well as humanitarian-peace-development nexus programming. We have current projects in Pemba, Metuge, Chiure, Montepuez districts in the south, and have recently opened new operations in Mueda and Palma to respond in harder to access northern locations.
Considering the fluid nature of the crisis and the climatic vulnerability of the province and country, Save the Children is prepared to support in provinces and districts which may be brought into the conflict or newly affected.