The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has voiced concerned about violence committed against children in northern Mali. Fighting between Tuareg separatist rebels, Islamist militants, and government forces has spiralled, causing chaos in the region.
More than 330,000 people have been uprooted from their homes and are now displaced within Mali or refugees in neighbouring countries. Children make up about a fifth of these forced migrants.
Children are currently being directly targeted in rapes and sexual assaults. They are also being recruited as child soldiers, said one UN spokesperson. In addition, explosives have injured or killed children indirectly as they are caught in the crossfire.
In all, more than 200 cases of violence against children have been recorded. Since late March, 175 boys aged 12 to 18 have been recruited. Eight girls have been the victims of sexual violence. Two teenage boys have been killed by unexploded ordinances. And, finally, 18 children have been maimed, UNCIEF reports.
More children are likely affected, but a lack of information and access to the region is preventing the organization from getting a totally accurate idea of what’s going on.
In armed conflict, children whose families are struggling to survive from day-to-day and who are out of school are vulnerable to the enticements of rebels persuading them to enlist—sometimes even with bribes of money, cellphones and more. When children feel they have little choice for a better life and are so easily exploited, making a distinction between free, fair recruitment on one side and coerced (or forced) enlistment on the other can be murky.
The closure of schools in Mali has already affected more than 300,000 children, says UNICEF. Another half a million children are at risk of severe malnutrition; most live in the south, but violence has curtailed access to food, water and services. Mali is also located in the semi-arid region of the Sahel, which has been experiencing a food security crisis that has put the health and lives of millions of people in jeopardy.
Conflict-affected regions include Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu. Timbuktu is where UNESCO World Heritage Sites have been desecrated. Muslim extremists have attacked a centuries-old mosque and destroyed treasured, historic tombs in their sack of the ancient city.
The destruction prompted a special session of representatives from UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
In Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao, UNICEF is providing nutritional assistance, safe water, sanitation and vaccines to prevent the spread of disease. The UN agency is also assisting unaccompanied children, promoting education and conducting public awareness activities.
The UN Security Council recently approved Resolution 2056, which calls for a road map to restoring constitutional order in Mali. The coup condemns the recent military coup and human rights violations committed by rebels. The resolution also calls for the return on the Interim President, Dioncounda Traoré.
The resolution “condemns in particular the targeted attacks against the civilian population, sexual violence, recruitment and use of child soldiers and forced displacement.