Children and armed conflict in Mali

A 15 years old malian girl A 15 years old malian girl © Souleymane Bathieno for HP+

This article is a brief summary of the third report of the UN Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Mali

The United Nations report  “Children and Armed Conflict in Mali” covers the period from 1 July 2017 to 31 March 2020 and portrays patterns of serious violations against kids that have occurred since the past report (S/2018/136) tracing the process made in addressing such infringement, accompanied by the continued effort to meet the proposals contained in the past report and to follow the recommendations of the Working Group. 

Thues, the introduced infringement have been confirmed by the United Nations Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting in Mali, co-chaired by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). 

During the update of this report, the political scenario in Mali underwent significant changes; the presidential elections held in July 2018 led to the re-election of the then incumbent president, to which followed the signature of a peace treaty between the UN and the Malian government, finally welcoming a season of dialogues aimed at pursuing and accelerating  a more comprehensive peace manouvre. Indeed, the long-awaited dialogues have occurred from October to December 2019. However, since then, the situation has weakened and culminated in a coup d’état, leading to a much worse scenario for children in the armed conflict. 

As expected,  the escalation of the conflict, particularly within the central districts, where there has been an exceptional weakening of security and humanitarian circumstances following the escalation of  intra-communal violence, counting between the Dogon and Fulani communities, and the proximityof armed groups, including those assigned by the UN as intimidating , has led to an estimated 1,764 confirmed serious violations affecting1,092 children (251 young girls, 811 boys, 30 sex undefined).

These violations include recruitment and exploitation, killing and mutilation, rape and abduction, not to mention enslavement and sex trafficking. 

As stated in the report, it is almost impossible to target all terrorist associations present in the territory, and it is even more complicated to link each of them to the committed violations. 

A total of 202 children were recruited by CMA (MNLA), the Mouvement arabe de l’Azawad-CMA (MAA-CMA), the Haut Conseil pour l’unité de l’Azawad (HCUA), followed by Platform (GATIA), Ganda Lassal Izo, Ganda Koy, MAA-Platform , Ganda Izo, the Front de libération des régions du Nord, and unidentified members of Platform. Splinter groups of Platform and CMA recruited and used 23 children. Armed groups designated as terrorists were responsible for 39 cases: JNIM (Front de libération du Macina (FLM) , Ansar Eddine, Al-Mourabitoun and other JNIM elements, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), MUJAO and unidentified armed groups. Some children were given military training and were used as fighters. Others were used in housework roles, such as domestic workers, couriers, cooks, drivers, guards and patrols at checkpoints. The same terrorist groups are responsible for subjecting girls between the ages of 11 and 17 to sexual violence including rape, sexual harassment, forced marriage  and attempted rape. 

Detailed monitoring of incidents of rape and other forms of sexual barbarism in Mali has been  severly limited due to several factors, including the prevailing frailty of the victims, the fear of retaliations, the need forprotection for survivors and witnesses, exemption, shame, limited access to legal justice and socio-cultural boundaries. 

Advocacy efforts were made by the country task force, as well as by the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. The advocacy is aimed at ensuring the revision of the law to include the criminalization of the recruitment and use of all children below the age of 18, in accordance with international standards. To this day, no improvement has been made by the Government towards the review and adoption of the legislation. Due to the disappearance of courts in some areas, the shortage of staff and the poor training of legal personnel , the need for medical services, the fear of retaliation and stigmatization, and the failure to provide  security for victims and witnesses, very little progress has been made with regard to “the fight against impunity in terms of the investigation, prosecution and conviction of suspected perpetrators of grave violations against children”. 

UN Secretary General António Guterres claims to be “extremely concerned by the sharp increase in the number of verified grave violations committed against children in Mali, in particular the recruitment and use of children, the killing and maiming of children, attacks on schools and hospitals and the denial of humanitarian access” and therefore launches an appeal to institutions in hope that they will acquire a much stronger sense of responsibility and awareness, crucial to end the children’s struggle. 

Concrete action is being attempted, as The Ministry for the Advancement of Women, Children and the Family is collaborating with the country task force to reinforce community-based mechanisms to prevent grave violations, to identify and provide for care to children released from armed forces and groups, as well as for children at risk of violence. The country task force has contributed to the establishment and the functioning of two new transit and orientation centres for children freed from armed forces and armed groups in Kidal and Mopti and continued to support the centres already established in Bamako and Gao.

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Author: Benedetta Spizzichino; Editor: Eleonora Gonnelli

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