ISIS Led Al-Shabab Using Child Soldiers: The Mozambique Crisis

An armed group, Al-Shabab, associated with ISIS used boys as young as 13 to raid and loot Macomia, a town in Northern Mozambique, on May 10, 2024. Witnesses and humanitarian aid workers said that the group which included dozens of boys was targeting the positions of government soldiers incited intense combat, and was reportedly seen carrying assault rifles and ammunition belts arrived in the town, and stole from stores and warehouses. Over 700 people left the conflict that began on May 10 and lasted until May 12, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported.


In footage from Human Rights Watch, fighters are seen approaching a local market while brandishing firearms. They also engaged in combat with army forces from Mozambique and South Africa, blocking the major route to Macomia. The attack, which occurred in an area that the Southern African military mission had previously controlled, was acknowledged by President Filipe Nyusi. According to multiple sources, Al-Shabab fighters besieged Macomia town for over twenty-four hours before leaving in the afternoon of May 11 and heading onto Mucojo. According to humanitarian workers, they stole food from different stores and warehouses owned by humanitarian organizations before leaving the town. Medecins Sans Frontieres, also known as MSF, announced that it had halted operations in Macomia as a result of the violence. In light of the recent incident, Human Rights Watch demanded Al-Shabab to free all youngsters enrolled in its ranks and cease recruiting new members.


Thousands of youngsters, some as young as eight years old, are engaging in military conflicts; frequently posing a threat to Mozambique’s national security because of their purported affiliation with violent extremist or terrorist groups. Many were coerced into sexual servitude, engaged in combat, or took part in suicide missions. When minors are recruited and used by military forces or terror organizations that comes under the direct breach of International Humanitarian Law on Child Rights. Recruitment of minors as child soldiers has been banned by Mozambique which purports direct violation of international treaties and human rights laws. In the year 2004, Mozambique ratified the UN Optional Protocol that forbids non-state armed groups from enlisting or recruiting minors under the age of 18; while the Rome Statute as per the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child designates as war crimes the enlistment, conscription, or active usage of minors under the age of fifteen.


The northern province of Mozambique has been the target of ISIS terror operations since 2017. This has resulted in over a million displacements and 6,000 fatalities, with 100,000 people 60,000 of whom are children flying this year. The militants, who lost ties to ISIS, were incensed at having witnessed Mozambique’s government fail to develop the area for decades while affluent foreigners and locals made enormous fortunes by mining the region’s rubies, graphite, gold, and timber. The impoverished and remote province saw the insurgency grow over the ensuing years. Palma, the $20 billion natural gas project site, was taken over by rebels in 2021. Recently in May 2024, Al-Shabab fighters occupied Macomia town, looting food from humanitarian groups and suspending their activities in the area. The terror wing has long used children in combat, violating international prohibitions on child soldiers, as reported by Human Rights Watch.


Child recruitment remains a global issue in African states including Mozambique, despite decades of efforts. To tackle this issue, it is essential to disincentivize the armed terror groups and the targeted measures against child-harming terror groups including sanctions; and UN peacekeeping emergency missions to rescue the children in conflict at a war pace. Correspondingly, there is a need to peacefully address the root cause by identifying the conditions perpetuated to become child soldiers that is, a holistic-humane stance is needed for a ‘world without child combatants’ where a community-driven approach can facilitate reintegration and community acceptance instantaneously. With a comprehensive community-driven approach, enactment of strategies like monitoring, raising public awareness campaigns, and incorporating adaptable programs to address rehabilitation-related problems can be implemented in a better manner.