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Watchdog: More Than 600 Women, Girls Kidnapped, Made Sex Slaves by Islamic Extremists in Mozambique

(Image credit: CBN News)

A watchdog says an armed group of Muslim extremists affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS) has abducted and enslaved more than 600 women and girls during the last three years in a northern province in Mozambique.

As CBN News has reported over the last couple of years, extremists have turned the Cabo Delgado province in the South African country into a continuous scene of bloody massacres, kidnappings, and beheadings. 

Human Rights Watch reports Mozambican and regional forces have rescued some of the kidnap victims, but many of them are still missing. 

The Islamic extremists are known as Al Sunnah wa Jama'ah (ASWJ) and Al-Shabab (or mashababos) kidnapped young, healthy, and lighter-skinned women and girls to "marry" their fighters, who enslave and sexually abuse them.

Other victims were sold to foreign fighters for a price between $600 to $1,800 in U.S. dollars. Foreign women and girls have been kidnapped but were released after their families paid a ransom.

"Al Shabab's leaders should immediately release every woman and girl in their captivity," said Human Rights Watch's Africa Director, Mausi Segun. "They should take all necessary steps to prevent rape and sexual abuse by their fighters, end child marriage, forced marriage, and the sale and enslavement of women and girls at their bases and areas of operation."

The watchdog group reported it interviewed 37 people, including former abductees, their relatives, security sources, and government officials, and monitored media reports about kidnappings. The people interviewed said  Al-Shabab abducted women and girls during attacks in various Cabo Delgado districts, including Mocímboa da Praia in March, June, and August 2020, and Palma in March 2021.

As CBN News reported in March, the attack on the northern town of Palma was particularly brutal as reports came in that dozens of civilians have been killed and bodies were littering the streets. Some of the dead had been beheaded. 

One woman told Human Rights Watch that Al-Shabab extremists assaulted her aunt, a local official, and forced her at gunpoint to identify all of the houses with families that had girls between ages 12 and 17 in Diaca town located in Mocimboa da Praia. More than 200 girls were counted, but it was not known if all of the girls were abducted by the extremists. 

"Some mothers were begging the fighters to take them instead of their daughters," a 27-year-old man said. "But one of the mashababos said they didn't want old women with children and diseases."

One former kidnap victim from the same town said he was ordered to select the women and girls for sex with the Islamic extremists on their return from launching attacks. 

"Those women who refused were punished with beatings, and no food for days," he told the watchdog. 

An official with the Cabo Delgado governor's office told Human Rights Watch in October that the army was holding hundreds of people, including women and children, who had been rescued from the Al-Shabab group's bases. The military was detaining the former victims in a local sports complex in an effort to separate civilians from suspected extremists. 

The official added the people who were being held in the facility were receiving medical attention, including psychological support. 

The watchdog called on Mozambican authorities and international and regional partners, including the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to provide rights-respecting, gender-sensitive, child-sensitive, and dignified reintegration and rehabilitation services, including comprehensive post-rape care, to the rescued women and girls. 

They also called on the government to prevent, investigate, prosecute, and punish the Islamic extremists for their abuses. 

"An unknown number of women and girls remain in captivity in Mozambique, facing horrific abuses daily, including enslavement and rape by Al-Shabab fighters," Segun said. "Mozambican authorities should intensify efforts to rescue and reintegrate survivors into their communities, and promptly ensure their humane treatment and access to medical and psychosocial services."

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