Maputo — CHILDREN always bear the brunt each time a country plunges into conflict.
If the harrowing violations against those in northern Mozambique are anything to go by, minors in the Southern African country are worse off than all others enduring persistent conflict around the continent.
Among these reports painting a picture of the gruesomeness of the crisis are youngsters, some pre-adolescent being beheaded, others being shot at and others being abandoned by fleeing families or starving in the bush where they have sought refuge.
Palma town, in the northern Cabo Delgado province, is the latest epicentre of the conflict that has ravaged Mozambique since 2017 but has only caught global attention recently after the Islamists perpetrating the terror took over the coastal city.
Sarah Miller, International Senior Fellow, confirmed the reports of the viciousness of the militants against minors.
"Reports of children as young as 11 being beheaded have also emerged, painting a picture of terror and horror for those fleeing," she lamented.
Aid workers of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) that have in recent days received children evacuated from the terror hotspots recounted blood-curdling scenes among terrified children.
One 13-month-old, who was with his mother, had been shot in the bottom. The bullet was lodged in his leg. The boy was due for surgery.
An injured girl, thought to be aged five-years-old but who was too traumatised to confirm her age, was carried off the plane moaning agonisingly in pain.
There were at least seven children on that plane who were alone in that plane operated by the United Nations Humanitarian Air Services.
"There were some terrible scenes," said UNICEF spokesperson, Marixie Mercado.
Aid workers are in a race against time and battling resource shortfalls to reunite unaccompanied children with their families.
The needs are mounting, including protection, nutrition, health care and psychosocial support.
In the Cabo Delgado, a cholera outbreak is underway.
COVID-19 is spreading.
The country is still reeling from cyclones and extreme weather events that have culminated in another humanitarian crisis since 2019.
"UNICEF's appeal to everyone is: don't forget Cabo Delgado's children," Mercado implored.
CARE has expressed concern about the plight of women and girls, who are vulnerable to sexual and physical violence in conflict contexts.
There were already an estimated 350 000 children had been displaced by the armed conflict in Cabo Delgado, even before the Palma attack.
Over the last year, the number of people displaced internally displaced in the province has skyrocketed tenfold from 70 000 to 700 000.
On Monday, the military reported it had regained control of Palma from the militants.
Authorities however conceded the situation was not conducive for returns yet
"The Defence and Security Forces are still on the ground and will not invite the population to return to Palma town without carrying out the work necessary to ensure their safety," Governor Valige Tauabo told media.
Leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) were scheduled to meet this week to proffer solutions.