The information below is based on the Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council (A/67/845–S/2013/245) issued on 15 May 2013.

The serious deterioration of the security situation in Mali in 2012 was characterized by a large number of grave violations against children by various armed groups. At different points in time, armed groups active in northern Mali formed shifting coalitions, involving joint military operations and co-location of troops. On the basis of the limited information available, membership of these armed groups has been extremely fluid, which presents a challenge when attempting to establish command responsibility for the violations against children reported throughout 2012. Although the prevailing situation of insecurity severely limited access, the United Nations received numerous reports that armed groups, including the Mouvement national de liberation de l’Azawad (MNLA), the Mouvement pour l’unicité et le jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (MUJAO), Ansar Dine and Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), were responsible for extensive recruitment and use of children. Initial information indicated that hundreds of children, mainly boys between 12 and 15 years of age, were enlisted during the reporting period. Children were used by the groups to man checkpoints and conduct patrols. Shifting alliances among armed groups resulted in the rerecruitment of children by different groups. As MNLA progressively lost control over northern Mali to Ansar Dine and MUJAO, some children shifted their loyalty to Ansar Dine, in particular those belonging to the Kidal-based group of Iyad Ag Ghali.

Reports of abduction and forced recruitment of children notwithstanding, many children allegedly joined armed groups for reasons of poverty or ethnic affiliation. Talibé children, entrusted by their parents to marabouts, or religious teachers, for Islamic instruction, were particularly vulnerable to recruitment, in addition to children belonging to the Tuareg, Arab, Peuhl and Songhai ethnic groups. MUJAO and Ansar Dine reportedly paid child recruits and their parents. Children as young as 12 years of age were enticed by MUJAO with the promise of receiving Koranic education. Children associated with MUJAO were seen standing guard in a secondary school in Douentza and carrying out menial tasks in a gendarmerie camp in Taoussa. MUJAO was reportedly also responsible for the forced recruitment of 15 children between 13 and 18 years of age in Menaka, following clashes in Konna, leading families to send their children to the Niger to prevent recruitment.

Children, both boys and girls, were also associated with pro-Government militias. For example, in the area of Mopti/Sévaré, which is controlled by the Government, the United Nations received reports of recruitment of children by Ganda Izo, Ganda Koy and the Forces de libération du nord. As some militias are being integrated into the Armed Forces of Mali, there is an urgent need for screening and separation of these children.

Children were also captured by the Malian armed forces during military operations in northern Mali. At least four children allegedly associated with MUJAO were detained by the Malian authorities, one of whom was reported to have been transferred to a juvenile rehabilitation centre. On 9 March 2013, French troops captured five child combatants in the course of military operations and transferred them to the Malian authorities. The children were immediately handed over to UNICEF for interim care. While children are currently being automatically transferred from the French armed forces via the Malian gendarmerie to UNICEF, the need remains to formalize this arrangement through standard operating procedures for the handover of children encountered during combat.

There is very limited information available for 2012 on the killing and maiming of children. Nevertheless, 17 incidents were reported during 2012 in which 6 children were killed and 22 maimed by explosive remnants of war. During the offensive, armouries of the national armed forces were pillaged, especially in Timbuktu, and weapons and munitions were scattered in the vicinity of towns. Armed groups also laid mines and left other explosive devices in northern Mali in anticipation of military operations, resulting in the killing and maiming of children. Between March and August 2012, 28 serious incidents were allegedly caused by mines and explosive remnants of war in northern Mali, killing 24 children. It is further alleged that children associated with armed groups were killed and maimed during the French and Malian military campaign initiated in January 2013, including during aerial bombardments. Some of those children were reportedly used as human shields by armed groups. Concern also remained over inter-ethnic reprisals against children of Arab or Tuareg origin, including by the national armed forces.

Sexual violence against girls by armed groups was reported to be widespread and systematic in northern Mali (Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal and part of Mopti). In total, 211 cases of sexual violence (including rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage, sexual violence in places of detention and gang rape) by MNLA, MUJAO, Ansar Dine and AQIM have been reported since January 2012. The United Nations gathered information on cases of girls who had been raped by several members of armed groups. Cases of forced marriage of women and girls by MUJAO, Ansar Dine and AQIM were reported in all regions under their control. Parents were reportedly coerced to hand over their daughters for marriage to members of those groups, resulting in rape and sexual slavery. The girls were often raped repeatedly by several men in the groups’ camps. Reports have also been received that girls from the Bella ethnic group, a Tuareg caste considered to be inferior to the so-called “light-skinned” Tuareg, were particularly vulnerable to abduction for purposes of sexual abuse and exploitation.

The MNLA offensive and subsequent takeover of northern Mali by armed groups had a devastating effect on children’s access to education. A total of 115 schools were looted, damaged, bombed, used for military purposes or contaminated with unexploded ordnance. Armed groups reportedly interfered in the conduct of classes, demanding that their interpretation of sharia law be taught. As at February 2013, 86 per cent of pupils remaining in the north still lacked access to education.

In October 2012, the Government established an interministerial working group to prevent grave violations against children. The objectives of this entity include public information campaigns to prevent recruitment and use of children and joint verification missions with international partners to ascertain the presence of children in self-defence militias. On 7 February 2013, an interministerial circular was signed on the prevention, protection and return to families of children associated with armed forces and armed groups.

Parties in Mali

  1. Ansar Dine (a, c)
  2. Mouvement national de liberation de l’Azawad (MNLA) (a, c)
  3. Mouvement pour l’unicité et le jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (MUJAO) (a, c)
(*) The parties underlined have been in the annexes for at least five years and are therefore considered persistent perpetrators. (a) Parties that recruit and use children. (c) Parties that commit rape and other forms of sexual violence against children.