Child trafficking is growing in Mali, with forced labor and forced recruitment by armed groups due to conflict, insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR said on Tuesday.
According to a UNHCR-backed study, approximately 230 cases of child recruitment were reported in the first half of the year, compared with 215 in the entire 2019.
Armed groups trafficked children to work in gold mines, the agency added, and the profits are used to fuel the arms trade and finance violence.
Meanwhile, adults working in mines are subject to exorbitant “taxes”.
The worst forms of abuse
“As a result of the conflict and the worsening socio-economic situation that has worsened by the pandemic, we are witnessing some of the most blatant human rights violations in the Sahel,” said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner for Protection.
“Children are forced into battle by armed groups, sold, raped, sold, forced into sexual or domestic slavery, or married. Many more children are at risk in the Sahel, a region that is becoming the world’s fastest growing humanitarian crisis. ‘
Overall, some 6,000 children, mostly boys, have been found in eight Mali mines by UNHCR’s child protection assessments.
These young people are at risk of the worst forms of child labor, economic exploitation, and physical, sexual and psychological violence.
Working to pay off the false “debt”
Some of the children came to the mines on “credit”, meaning that their transport and food were financed by a third party, while others said they worked for several days without pay. They are expected to work indefinitely until they repay their “debt”.
In addition, UNHCR said reports of abductions, sexual assaults and rape of women and girls have been received from the Mopti region of central Mali, with over 1,000 cases reported this year.
The agency worries that child marriage will inevitably increase as well in a country where about 53 percent of girls get married before the age of 18.
Smuggled in transit
The victims of these crimes are Malians, but also refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.
Despite the conflict and restrictions on the movement of COVID-19, UNHCR said Mali remains a key transit country for those trying to reach northern Africa and Europe.
Some of these “people on the move” are trafficked for forced labor in agriculture, while others, especially women, are trafficked on their way to promised jobs in North Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Others are relocated to the capital, Bamako, to mining or farming areas, where they are forced into what is known as survival sex.
UNHCR said the traffickers and their associates are representatives of various criminal groups and prohibited armed groups, tribal chiefs or state authorities, but may even be parents, relatives or members of the community.
The Agency continues to insist on greater support for efforts to prevent and respond to trafficking in human beings, protect those at risk and assist victims, while ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice.
However, according to a recent report, insufficient funding threatens these efforts.