Islamist rebel groups in northern Mali are recruiting and training boys as young as 12, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Unicef found evidence that at least 175 boys have been recruited by armed groups vying for control over the remote north of the country, Virginia Perez, a Unicef child protection official, said today in a phone interview from the capital, Bamako.
Other children have been killed or maimed by explosives, while at least eight young girls reported being sexually abused by gunmen, according to Perez.
“The situation for children is alarming because there is a combination of problems,” she said. “Not only is there increasing violence against children, all schools in the area are closed and there is a severe food crisis.”
The Ansar ud-Din Islamist group on June 29 claimed control of the historic trading town of Timbuktu and the cities of Gao and Kidal following clashes with nomadic Touareg insurgents who declared independence in northern Mali in April.
Ansar ud-Din, which seeks to impose Shariah law in the West African nation, collaborates with other armed groups including the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa.
The rebel groups used a power vacuum in the capital, Bamako, to seize the north following the ouster of Malian President Amadou Toure in a March 22 coup.