Stories of children being forced into military service is nothing new. There are many stories about Sudan’s “Lost Boys”, and numerous reports of boys being kidnapped in countries like Somalia, Liberia, and the Congo and being forced into service.
On Friday, UNICEF released a statement stating they have “credible reports that armed groups in the north of Mali are increasingly recruiting and using children for military purposes.”
In June they reported that at least 175 boys between the age of 12 and 18, were directly associated with armed groups in northern Mali, and the numbers appear to be growing.
UNICEF has also recently stated that regional insecurity has forced an estimated 30,000 children out of schools. A lack of education makes the children more susceptible to being exploited and recruited into the military.
"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 to humanitarian workers is limited." UNICEF is working with local partners in the conflict-affected regions of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu as well as the bordering region of Mopti to strengthen communities ability to protect children", the report said.
In a May 2012 report, UNICEF stated 4.6 million people in Mali face food insecurity. The conflict in Northern Mali exacerbates the situation. This can also makes children susceptible to recruitment. Promises of daily meals and pay are very alluring when you and your family are on the verge of starvation.
The events surrounding the recruitment of children in Mali began in late March of this year when members of the Mali Military staged a coup and ousted democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Touré .
Since the coup, the country of Mali has basically been split into two parts: the south, ruled by the military-led government in Bamako, and the north where Islamic extremists rebels with ties to Al Qaeda have taken control. Although the military has not engaged in a formal offensive against the rebels, the army is encouraging citizen militias, providing training, shelter and food.
With the budding conflict in northern Mali still in its infancy, there is no way of knowing exactly how many children will be lured into joining militias or the military. History has shown us how such practices adversely effect children, and the idea that children in Mali will not only lose their childhood, but possibly their lives, is something that should shock and anger the conscious of everyone.
You can hear more about the situation in Northern Mali in this Human Rights Watch video.