The United Nations Childrens’ Fund said Friday that armed groups occupying northern Mali were forcibly recruiting children, while others had been raped and killed by explosive devices.
UNICEF said in a statement that evidence collected since the end of March, when Arab Islamists and other armed groups seized the northern half of Mali, showed at least 175 boys aged between 12 and 18 had been recruited into armed groups.
The agency also noted that at least eight girls were raped or sexually abused. Two boys were killed by explosive devices and another 18 children maimed.
Theophane Nikyema, UNICEF’s representative in Mali, said that in addition to this, some 300,000 children had been affected by the closure of schools and were at higher risk of recruitment, violence and exploitation.
“These numbers are reason for alarm especially because they represent only a partial picture of the child protection context in the north – an area where access for humanitarian workers is limited,” he said.
Children in the desert region are further facing a severe nutritional crisis which has put some 560,000 young children in Mali at risk of acute malnutrition this year, the statement said.
“More than 330,000 people, a fifth of them children, have fled their homes, with 150,000 internally displaced inside Mali, and over 180,000 seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.”
UNICEF said it was in critical need of additional funding, with only 21 percent of its appeal for $58 million (47 million euro) for 2012 met.
Once one of west Africa’s most stable democracies, Mali has been plunged into chaos since soldiers ousted the government on March 22 over its inability to clamp down on a deadly rebellion by Arab Tuareg separatists in the north.
But the coup only eased the way for the Tuareg to seize key northern towns, effectively partitioning the country. However a previously unknown Islamist group fighting on their flanks soon took the upper hand.
They openly allied with Al-Qaeda and pushed the Tuareg fighters out of key positions, installing sharia law, destroying ancient Muslim shrines and rigging one key town with landmines.