Keep children in Mali out of harm’s way – UNICEF
General News of Sunday, 20 January 2013
With military operations ongoing in Mali, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is calling on commanders of all armed forces, groups and militias in Mali to take every possible measure to protect children from the impact of hostilities.
Pernille Ironside, a specialist with Child Protection in Emergencies at UNICEF in New York, who made the call in a press release posted on the official website of UNICEF, said all armed forces must stop the recruitment and use of children in their ranks and keep children out of harm’s way.
“Commanders are obligated to immediately release any child under the age of 18 who is currently associated with their group to minimize children’s exposure to the dangers of combat,” said Pernille Ironside.
“The Malian Armed Forces and allies must do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties, including women and children,” she added.
UNICEF is gravely concerned about children being used in fighting. There is a high risk of separation from their families, which can make children much more vulnerable to many forms of abuse, including recruitment, sexual abuse, child trafficking and other forms of violence against children.
There is also the danger that in the event of the armed groups retreating or fleeing, children will be left behind and rendered vulnerable to revenge attacks.
Northern Mali fell to Islamist rebels after a March 2012 military coup in Bamako triggered a Tuareg-led offensive that seized the north and split the West African nation in two.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) says it has received reports of horrific abuses being committed in Mali, and it anticipates up to 700,000 more people will be forced to flee their homes in the next few months because of violence there.
Reports of the use of child soldiers among the rebel groups, and disappeared family members, are also surfacing, says UNHCR.
Meanwhile leaders from the Economic Community of West African States met in Cote d’Ivoire on Saturday to discuss the international response to the conflict in Mali.
Ghana’s president, John Dramani Mahama is in attendance.