The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) [official website] said Friday that it has received "credible reports" of armed groups in Mali recruiting children [press release] for military purposes. UNICEF called on all parties to protect children from the reportedly escalating recruitment rates in northern regions of the country, reiterating that the recruitment and use of children under the age of 18 by armed groups is prohibited by international law, and constitutes a war crime and crime against humanity for children under the age of 15. UNICEF further reported that schools in northern Mali have been closed for much of the year as tens of thousands of families have been uprooted from their homes and exposed to violence and distress. UNICEF estimates that over 175 boys between the ages of 12 and 18 participated in armed group activities in northern Mali in July.
Children exposed to hostilities and other extreme situations where they are held to adult standards may experience potentially long-term negative impacts on their health and well-being. Earlier this month Children's Rights Researcher Alice Farmer [profile] at Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] wrote that in many cases of asylum, children are presumed to be adults and are detained as such in countries such as Malta, despite UNICEF endorsements [JURIST comment] of standards stating that migrants who enter age determination proceedings should be presumed children until shown otherwise. In June UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] issued a report detailing the violations committed against children in conflict zones [JURIST report]. The report discussed conflicts in Afghanistan [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], Central African Republic [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], Chad [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], Sudan [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], South Sudan [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], Democratic Republic of Congo [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and Syria [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], and the situation of children in each country.