Rate of early child marriage amongst displaced children has steadily increased, from six children in Jan., 32 in Feb., and 70 in March in Cabo Delgado region in Northern Mozambique, according to new data released by Save the Children International.
In Cabo Delgado region, where conflict has taken a devastating human toll, especially on children, the agency reported that between Jan. and March 2022, 108 cases of child marriage in the Pemba, Metuge, Chiure, and Montepuez districts of Cabo Delgado were recorded.
According to SCI, the rise in child marriage is as a result of a combination of factors, including the continued distress in families having to migrate and unable to feed their family or house all their children.
Instead, they have to let them be married to lighten the load on the family, the report said.
Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International said 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,” Ashing raised an alarm.
The United States Agency For International Development (USAID) estimated that Cabo Delgado has the second highest rate of child marriage and the highest rate of adolescent pregnancy in Mozambique —65 per cent of adolescents aged 15-19 are already mothers or pregnant.
In 2021, a senior researcher for the Africa division of Human Rights Watch documented several cases of sexual exploitation and abuse of women in exchange for humanitarian aid in the Northern Cabo Delgado province.
It was reported that community leaders and aid workers requested sex and sexually abused displaced women in Cabo Delgado in exchange for humanitarian aid.
Displacement worsens conditions for children
Since 2017, conflict in Cabo Delgado province has led to the displacement of 784, 564 people, including about 370,000 children.
In Jan. this year, an estimated 14,200 people, including at least 6,800 children, fled their homes following attacks on communities by armed men.
Between March 23 and 29, an additional 4,169 people were displaced, in which half were reportedly children. Of those displaced, 72 per cent live in host communities, while 28 per cent live in squalid displacement camps.
“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,” Ashing said.
“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.”
In 2019, the Mozambique parliament passed a national law criminalising unions against minors’ early marriage. The law came as a result of concern that almost half of girls in Mozambique are married before the age of 18.
Community leaders have taken the responsibility since the law was passed to disseminate and bring more awareness against the consequences of early marriage.
In 2021, Save the Children reached out to about 302,000 people, including nearly 174,000 children.
“This was through life-saving and life-sustaining support to internally displaced people, as well as humanitarian-peace-development nexus programming,” SCI said.
“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.”
“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.”
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