The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is warning of grave violations of child rights in northern Mali, where they are confronted not just by the food crisis in the wider Sahel region but also by displacement and the effect of an armed rebellion.
“Children in northern Mali are no longer on the brink of disaster. Now it is here,” UNICEF Mali’s Deputy Representative, Frederic Sizaret, said. “Far too many are suffering from under-nutrition, displacement, many are out of school, and now there are credible reports of grave violations of child rights.”
Mali is among several countries in West Africa’s Sahel region that are suffering from a food crisis resulting from prolonged drought. The northern part of the country has also witnessed resumed clashes between Government forces and Tuareg rebels since January, leading to the mass displacement of civilians. The majority of those uprooted from their villages have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.
According to UNICEF, more than 300,000 people from the north, half of them children, are now displaced elsewhere in Mali or in neighbouring countries. Meanwhile, the insecurity is hampering the delivery of aid to those who remain.
Recent reports say women and girls are being kidnapped and children are being recruited into the armed groups, the agency noted. Landmines have already killed several children.
“Without better humanitarian access, the situation could rapidly worsen,” UNICEF stated in a news release.
Disease outbreaks are very possible, as approximately 50 per cent of health facilities in the north have been vandalized, destroying equipment and stocks of vaccines. Of approximately 1,300 cases of cholera in the country in the past year, almost 1,000 were in the north, and cases of measles have been reported.
UNICEF and its partners have delivered enough ready-to-use therapeutic food in the north to provide treatment for approximately 3,000 severely malnourished children, and health kits for 60,000 people for one month.
It has also supplied non-food items such as plastic sheeting, cooking equipment, soap, and household water treatment tablets for more than 12,000 internally displaced people and host families in the regions of Timbuktu, Kidal, Gao and Mopti.
The agency is appealing for $26 million to fund the emergency response for children and women affected by the food and nutrition crisis and $7.6 million to respond to the displacement. “Without increased aid, children in Mali will continue to suffer,” it warned.