Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women and men and provides a penalty for conviction of five to 20 years’ imprisonment for offenders, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Rape was a widespread problem. Authorities prosecuted only a small percentage of rape cases since victims seldom reported rapes due to societal pressure, particularly because attackers were frequently close relatives, and due to fear of retaliation. No law explicitly prohibits spousal rape, but law enforcement officials stated that criminal laws against rape could apply to spousal rape. Police and judicial authorities were willing to pursue rape cases but were also willing to stop pursuing their cases if parties privately reached an agreement prior to trial. This promoted an environment where victims might be pressured by family to accept monetary “compensation” for the crime committed against them instead of seeking justice through the legal system. There were several convictions related to rape and domestic violence during an extended Court of Assizes session that began in August. The court convicted one suspect of pedophilia; he received a sentence of three years’ imprisonment. Two suspects convicted of rape and pedophilia each received five-year prison sentences; including a Guinean national convicted of raping a minor. On September 30, an individual convicted of murder and attempted rape was sentenced to death.
Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, was prevalent. A 2012/2013 gender assessment found a vast majority of women in the country suffered from domestic violence and concluded that 76 percent of women believed it was acceptable for a man to beat a woman for burning food, arguing, going out without telling the man, being negligent with children, or refusing to have sexual intercourse; the 2018 Mali Demographic and Health Survey concluded that 79 percent of women and 47 percent of men still believed this behavior was justified. The same survey found 49 percent of women experienced spousal violence (emotional, physical, or sexual); 43 percent of women ages 15 to 49 experienced physical violence; and one in every eight women (13 percent) experienced sexual violence. Of women who experienced domestic violence, 68 percent never sought help or told anyone.
Spousal abuse is a crime, but the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence. According to human rights organizations, most cases went unreported as a result of both cultural taboos and a lack of understanding regarding legal recourse. Conviction of assault is punishable by prison terms of one to five years and substantial fines. The sentence may be increased up to 10 years’ imprisonment if the assault is found to be premeditated. Nonetheless, police were often reluctant to intervene in cases of domestic violence. Additionally, many women were reluctant to file complaints against their husbands due to financial dependence concerns, or to avoid social stigma, retaliation, or ostracism. The Ministry of Justice Planning and Statistics Unit, established to track prosecutions, did not produce reliable statistics.
On September 21, following a complaint from his girlfriend, prominent singer Sidiki Diabate was arrested by the Bamako police judicial investigations unit for allegations of domestic violence and sequestration. A robust social media campaign denouncing the artist also resulted in him being dropped from concert appearances. On September 24, he was formally charged and imprisoned. On September 26, the Platform Against Gender-Based Violence held a march in support of victims of gender-based violence. On October 2, supporters of the artist announced a demonstration in his honor, but it was cancelled. Local media reported Diabate was provisionally released on bail on December 29; his trial was pending at year’s end.
According to MINUSMA, extremist groups were also responsible for intimidating and threatening women into “modesty” by imposing the veil on women in the regions of Timbuktu and Mopti. Reportedly, in the Dianke area of Timbuktu, several unveiled women were threatened, while in Binedama in the Mopti Region, all women were forced to wear a veil. The United Nations also reported an increase in conflict-related sexual violence attributable to extremist armed elements and signatory armed groups in the northern and central parts of the country.
In the March 20 report of the UN secretary-general to the Security Council on the situation in the country, MINUSMA documented at least eight cases of conflict-related sexual violence. According to the report, “The cases included the forced marriage of four girls by alleged extremist elements in Timbuktu Region; the rape of two women, reportedly by Mouvement pour le salut de l’Azawad members in Menaka; the gang rape of a girl, imputed to elements of the Coordination des mouvements de l’Azawad et Front patriotique de reisistance in Gao; and the sexual assault of a five-year-old girl, perpetrated by a member of the MDSF in Gao.”
According to MINUSMA, following a January 21 workshop discussing the role of the High Islamic Council in countering conflict-related sexual violence, the president of the High Islamic Council signed a declaration, making commitments to prevent gender-based violence, including the issuance of a fatwa to denounce conflict-related sexual violence.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is legal in the country and, except in certain northern areas, all religious and ethnic groups practiced it widely, particularly in rural areas. Although FGM/C is legal, authorities prohibited the practice in government-funded health centers.
Parents generally had FGM/C performed on girls between ages six months and nine years. According to the 2018 Mali Demographic and Health Survey, 89 percent of women ages 15-49 were circumcised, but this varied widely by geographic location with rates as low as less than 2 percent in Gao to more than 95 percent in Koulikoro and Sikasso. Approximately 76 percent of circumcisions occurred prior to age five, and circumcision was almost always performed by a traditional practitioner (99 percent). According to the survey, approximately 70 percent of men and 69 percent of women believed excision was required by religion and three-quarters of the population, regardless of gender, believed the practice should continue. Government information campaigns regarding the dangers of FGM/C reached citizens throughout the country where security allowed, and human rights organizations reported decreased incidence of FGM/C among children of educated parents.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, which routinely occurred, including in schools, without any government efforts to prevent it.
Reproductive Rights: By law couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Many couples and individuals, however, lacked the information and means to enjoy these rights.
While no government policy adversely affected access to contraception, women and girls faced cultural and social barriers such as the consent of their husbands and influential members of the household to manage their reproductive health.
Distance to health-care facilities and flooded roadways during rainy season negatively affected the ability of those living in rural areas to access adequate healthcare easily.
In accessing information about their reproductive health, women with disabilities faced distinct barriers, such as physical barriers to entry into health-care facilities, communication barriers, discriminatory and disrespectful treatment from health-care providers, and the lack of reproductive health information in accessible formats.
While government sexual and reproductive health services were available to survivors of sexual violence, including survivors of conflict related sexual violence, the services were rarely specialized. In instances of gender-based violence such as sexual violence, survivors often sought care from general health facilities. Through Spotlight, an initiative supported by the European Union and the UNFPA and UN Women, the country provided specialized assistance to survivors of gender-based violence, including family planning counseling, at the referral health center level via 10 “one-stop centers” in Bamako, Gao, Mopti, Kayes, and Koulikoro.
The maternal mortality rate was estimated at 325 per 100,000 live births, and 67 percent of women delivered in a health center assisted by skilled health workers. The key drivers of maternal mortality included poor access to and use of quality antenatal, delivery, and postnatal care services. The primary direct obstetric causes of maternal mortality were hemorrhage (37 percent), eclampsia (11 percent), and sepsis (11 percent). FGM/C was a significant public health problem that contributed to maternal morbidity. According to the UNFPA, the adolescent birth rate was 164 per 1,000.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The law does not provide the same legal status and rights for women as for men, particularly concerning divorce and inheritance. Women are legally obligated to obey their husbands and are particularly vulnerable in cases of divorce, child custody, and inheritance. There were legal restrictions on women holding employment in the same occupations, tasks, and industries held by men. Women had very limited access to legal services due to their lack of education and information as well as the prohibitive cost. Despite the discriminatory nature of the law, the government effectively enforced it.
While the law provides for equal property rights, traditional practices and ignorance of the law prevented women from taking full advantage of their rights. The marriage contract must specify if the couple wishes to share estate rights. If marriage certificates of Muslim couples do not specify the type of marriage, judges presume the marriage to be polygynous.
The Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Children, and the Family is responsible for ensuring the legal rights of women.
According to 2019 estimates, more than one-half of the population is younger than age 18. As of June the United Nations estimated 2.42 million children were in need of humanitarian assistance. According to UNICEF’s data regarding children, repeated attacks led to death; gunshot or burn injuries; displacement and separation from families; and exposure to violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence; arrests and detention; and psychological trauma. Hundreds of children were estimated to be recruited by armed groups annually.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from either parent or by birth within the country, and the law requires registration within 30 days of birth. A fine may be levied for registration occurring after the 30-day period. Girls were less likely to be registered.
The government did not register all births immediately, particularly in rural areas. Some organizations indicated there were insufficient registration sites to accommodate all villages, further exacerbating the low registration rates in certain areas. According to a December 2019 UNICEF report, 13 percent of children younger than five were not registered, while 22 percent of registered children did not receive birth certificates. Lack or inaccessibility of services, lack of birth registration books, and ignorance of the importance of birth certificates by parents were among challenges for birth registration. According to UNICEF, the government registered nearly 90 percent of births in 2019. The government conducted an administrative census in 2014 to collect biometric data and assign a unique identifying number to every citizen. The process allowed the registration of children not registered at birth, although the number of birth certificates assigned was unknown. Several local NGOs worked with foreign partners to register children at birth and to educate parents regarding the benefits of registration, which is critical for access to education and government services. Birth registration also plays an essential role in protecting children, as well as facilitating their release and reintegration if recruited by armed groups or detained.
Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free universal education, and the law provides for compulsory schooling of children ages six through 15. Nevertheless, many children did not attend school. Parents often had to pay their children’s school fees as well as provide their uniforms and supplies. Other factors affecting school enrollment included distance to the nearest school, lack of transportation, shortages of teachers, a protracted teachers’ strike from December 2019 to September 13, shortages of instructional materials, and lack of school feeding programs. Girls’ enrollment was lower than that of boys at all levels due to poverty, a cultural preference to educate boys, the early marriage of girls, and sexual harassment of girls. According to the 2018 Mali Demographic and Health Survey, two-thirds of women ages 15-49 had no education, compared with 53 percent of men in the same age range, and only 28 percent of women were literate, compared with 47 percent of men.
On March 19, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government announced the closure of schools. Compounded with a simultaneous teachers’ strike, schools effectively remained closed until September 13, when a salary increase agreement was reached between the teachers’ union and the CNSP (the de facto authority following the overthrow of the government). In December schools were again closed in an effort to stymie a second wave of COVID-19 cases. It was estimated that nearly 3.8 million children in the country were affected by school closures during the year.
In June the United Nations reported that conflict had caused the closure of at least 1,261 schools in the regions of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, Mopti, and Segou since the beginning of the year. Many schools were damaged or destroyed because rebels sometimes used them as bases of operations. The United Nations also reported the government security forces also sometimes used school compounds as bases. MINUSMA reported that during the first half of the year, at least seven schools were attacked or targeted. Jihadist groups often threatened teachers and communities to close schools that did not offer solely religious instruction. The conflict-related closure of more than 1,261 schools during the year was an increase from approximately 900 closures during the 2018-19 school year, and nearly doubled the number of school closures in the same period in 2017-18. The majority of closed schools were located in the Mopti Region.
Child Abuse: Comprehensive government statistics on child abuse did not exist, but the problem was widespread. Most child abuse cases went unreported. According to MINUSMA’s HRPD reports detailing the first six months of the year, 39 children were killed, less than a one-quarter the number reported during the same period of 2019. The United Nations documented 402 cases of grave abuses (defined as recruitment or use of children as soldiers, killing and maiming of children, rape and other grave sexual violence, abductions, attacks on schools and hospitals, or denial of humanitarian access to children) against 254 children between January and June. Police and the social services department in the Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action investigated and intervened in some reported cases of child abuse or neglect, but the government provided few services for such children (see also section 1.g, Child Soldiers).
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age to marry without parental consent is 16 for girls and 18 for boys. A girl age 15 may marry with parental consent with approval of a civil judge. Authorities did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in rural areas, and child, early, and forced marriage was a problem throughout the country. Girls were also taken as ‘wives’ for combatants and leaders of armed groups. According to 2017 data from UNICEF, 54 percent of women were married by age 18 and 16 percent before age 15.
In some regions of the country, especially Kayes and Koulikoro, girls married as young as age 10. It was common practice for a girl age 14 to marry a man twice her age. According to local human rights organizations, officials frequently accepted false birth certificates or other documents claiming girls younger than age 15 were old enough to marry. NGOs implemented awareness campaigns aimed at abating child, early, and forced marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the sexual exploitation of children, including commercial sexual exploitation. Penalties for conviction of sexual exploitation of both adults and children are six months’ to three years’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine. Penalties for convicted child traffickers are five to 20 years in prison. Penalties for conviction of indecent assault, including child pornography, range from five to 20 years in prison. The country has a statutory rape law that defines 18 as the minimum age for consensual sex. The law, which was inconsistent with the legal minimum marriage age of 15 for girls, was not enforced. Sexual exploitation of children occurred.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Some prostitutes and domestic workers practiced infanticide, mainly due to lack of access to and knowledge of contraception.
Displaced Children: UNICEF reported that, as of March, 79 unaccompanied and separated children had received interim care and protection services since the beginning of the year. According to the OCHA, children made up 58 percent of IDPs in the country.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There were fewer than 50 Jews in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.
The constitution and law do not specifically protect the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in access to employment, education, air travel and other transportation, health care, the judicial system, and state services. There is no law mandating accessibility to public buildings. While persons with disabilities have access to basic health care, the government did not place a priority on protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Many such individuals relied on begging.
Persons with mental disabilities faced social stigmatization and confinement in public institutions. For cases in which an investigative judge believed a criminal suspect had mental disabilities, the judge referred the individual to a doctor for mental evaluation. Based on a doctor’s recommendation–medical doctors sometimes lacked training in psychology–the court would either send the individual to a mental institution in Bamako or proceed with a trial.
The Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The ministry sponsored activities to promote income-earning opportunities for persons with disabilities and worked with NGOs, such as the Malian Federation of Associations for Handicapped Persons, which provided basic services. Although the government was responsible for eight schools countrywide for deaf persons, it provided almost no resources or other support.
Societal discrimination continued against black Tuaregs, often referred to as Bellah. Some Tuareg groups deprived black Tuaregs of basic civil liberties due to hereditary slavery-like practices and hereditary servitude relationships.
There were continued reports of slave masters kidnapping the children of their Bellah slaves. Slaveholders considered slaves and their children as property and reportedly took slave children to raise them elsewhere without permission from their parents. The antislavery organization Temedt organized workshops in the Kayes Region to convince communities to abandon the practice of keeping slaves. More than 2,000 families who were displaced in 2019 due to their refusal to be subjected to slavery practices remained displaced and continued to be prevented from farming and accessing social services in the areas of Diema, Nioro du Sahel, and Yelimane in the Kayes Region. In addition despite government negotiations that allowed for the return of 213 families to Kerouane in Kayes Region, villagers prevented the families from accessing basic needs.
In September human rights organizations reported that four persons in Diandioume, circle of Nioro du Sahel, were bound, beaten, and drowned for refusing the practice of hereditary slavery. At least 95 of their family members fled or were displaced. The CNDH and other human rights organizations condemned the situation and called on the government to take action. At least 30 persons were reportedly arrested as a result.
Intercommunal violence led to frequent clashes between members of the Fulani or Peuhl ethnic groups and, separately, members of the Bambara and Dogon communities for their alleged support of armed Islamists linked to al-Qa’ida. According to Human Rights Watch, this tension has given rise to ethnic “self-defense groups” and driven thousands from their homes, diminished livelihoods, and induced widespread hunger. Such groups representing these communities were reportedly involved in several communal attacks, and retaliatory attacks were common.
In the center, violence across community lines escalated. Clashes between the Dogon and Fulani communities were exacerbated by the presence of extremist groups and resulted in large numbers of civilian deaths (see section 1.g, Killings).
In another example, over the course of several hours on July 1, unidentified gunmen attacked the Dogon villages of Panga Dougou, Djimdo, Gouari, and Dialakanda, in the circle of Bankass, Mopti region, killing at least 32 civilians and wounding several others, and burning and looting several houses.
The law prohibits association “for an immoral purpose.” Nonetheless, anecdotal evidence suggested there was an upsurge in targeting of LGBTI individuals and their full protection remained in question. In January, reportedly in response to allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct, 15 young men were arrested at a social event. The defendants were apparently targeted for their perceived sexual orientation and were accused of indecency, trafficking in persons, corruption of minors, and rape. Following their arrest, clinics where some of them were receiving HIV care were ransacked and temporarily closed. Observers believed the clinics were targeted for their work serving key populations at risk of HIV. It was difficult to obtain information regarding the specific sequence of events and the young men’s treatment while in police custody. According to the government, their detention was intended to protect this vulnerable group. As of December three of the 15 remained in pretrial detention pending a continuing investigation.
No laws specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
NGOs reported LGBTI individuals experienced physical, psychological, and sexual violence, which society viewed as “corrective” punishment. Family members, neighbors, and groups of strangers in public places committed the majority of violent acts, and police frequently refused to intervene. Most LGBTI individuals isolated themselves and kept their sexual orientation or gender identity hidden. An NGO reported that LGBTI individuals frequently dropped out of school, left their places of employment, and did not seek medical treatment to hide their sexual identity and avoid social stigmatization.
Societal discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS occurred. HIV positivity was often locally perceived to be synonymous with LGBTI. The government implemented campaigns to increase awareness of the condition and reduce discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS.
Discrimination continued against persons with albinism. Some traditional religious leaders perpetuated the widespread belief that such persons possessed special powers that others could extract by bringing a traditional spiritual leader the blood or head of one. For example, in October 2019 a group of persons, including the victim’s husband, killed an albino pregnant woman in Kita on the orders of a traditional spiritual leader. Two of the perpetrators were arrested. As of December, the victim’s husband remained under arrest and the case remained pending. Singer-songwriter and albino activist Salif Keita noted that men often divorced their wives for giving birth to a child with albinism. Lack of understanding of the condition continued and impeded such persons’ lack of access to sunblock, without which they were highly susceptible to skin cancer. Keita founded the Salif Keita Global Foundation in 2006, which continued to provide free health care to persons with albinism, advocated for their protection, and provided education to help end their abuse.
On October 3, the Malian Association for the Protection of People with Albinism hosted a press conference in Bamako to demand authorities apply the 2017-21 regional action plan on albinism in Africa. While the plan aims to promote the rights of albinos in the country and across Africa, the association contended that since its adoption, authorities have struggled to apply it.