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MALI: Tier 3

The Government of Mali does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts to do so compared to the previous reporting period. Although Mali meets the criteria for Tier 2 Watch List, because it has been on Tier 2 Watch List for four years, it is no longer eligible for that ranking and is therefore ranked Tier 3. Despite a lack of overall increasing efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking, including convicting its first traffickers under the 2012 anti-trafficking law and sending one trafficker to jail. In addition, the government allocated a line item for anti-trafficking activities in its annual budget and disbursed funding to support training on the anti-trafficking law, in-kind support to victim shelters, and awareness-raising activities. However, there were reports the government also provided some in-kind support to and on some occasions collaborated with the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group (GATIA), a non-government militia headed by a Malian general that used and recruited child soldiers. It did not investigate any government officials for complicity in child soldiering. Moreover, contrary to government protocol, officials transferred four ex-child combatants whom international authorities had removed from GATIA back to a government official with ties to GATIA to facilitate family reintegration; it is unclear if the victims were reunited with their families. The government did not have standard procedures to identify and refer victims to care and continued to detain some former child soldiers in adult prison facilities for alleged association with militias. Furthermore, many judicial personnel were still unaware of the 2012 anti-trafficking law, and police lacked funding and resources to investigate trafficking cases.

Cease support to groups that use and recruit child soldiers; follow the established protocol for referring children allegedly associated with armed groups to care, and cease detaining such children; vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and punish traffickers, including those who recruit and use child soldiers and allegedly complicit officials, and prescribe penalties with terms of imprisonment; further train judges and prosecutors on the 2012 anti-trafficking law; develop standardized mechanisms to identify potential trafficking victims, including children among armed groups, and refer them to care, and train government officials on such procedures; train law enforcement on effective case investigation techniques and provide them with the necessary resources to investigate trafficking cases; expand and strengthen implementation of programs for the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of former child combatants that address specific needs of child ex-combatants; continue funding or in-kind support to NGOs that assist trafficking victims to expand shelters and services for victims, including outside the capital; enact legislation to criminalize hereditary slavery, and investigate and prosecute cases of it, especially in the north; fully implement the 2015-2017 national action plan to combat trafficking, including by formalizing the roles and responsibilities of various anti-trafficking committee members; and increase efforts to raise public awareness of trafficking, including child forced begging in Quranic schools.

The government modestly increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Law 2012-023 Relating to the Combat against Trafficking in Persons and Similar Practices criminalizes all forms of trafficking of adults and children. The law prescribes penalties of five to 10 years imprisonment, and a maximum of 20 year imprisonment for cases involving aggravating circumstances, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. Forced begging is considered a crime under articles 10 and 11 of the 2012 law, and carries penalties of two to five years imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 to 2 million West African CFA francs (FCFA) ($800 – $3,200), which is sufficiently stringent. The 2012 law does not criminalize hereditary slavery, however, and reports indicated this practice was increasing in the north.

As in the previous reporting period, the justice minister issued a decree instructing all judicial personnel to prioritize prosecutions of cases under the 2012 law. Although the government did not have a centralized mechanism to collect or maintain comprehensive anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim identification statistics, it reported investigating 11 trafficking cases, prosecuting at least seven traffickers in six cases, and convicting four traffickers in three cases. This is compared with investigating three potential cases and not prosecuting or convicting any traffickers in the previous reporting period. Nine investigations, three prosecutions, and the appeal of the acquittal of one trafficker remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The judge sentenced one trafficker to one year imprisonment for transporting eight Ivoirian children to a Quranic school where they would have been exploited in forced begging or other forced labor; this was the government’s first conviction under the trafficking article of the 2012 law, although the judge found mitigating circumstances so the prescribed sentence was below the minimum of five years imprisonment specified in the law. Judges also sentenced three traffickers under the forced begging article of the 2012 law in two additional cases. Although the law prescribes a penalty of five years imprisonment and a fine, the judge used mitigating circumstances to impose sentences of one year imprisonment, suspended, for one individual and two years imprisonment, suspended, and fines of 25,000 FCFA ($40) for the other two traffickers. Penalties without imprisonment are inadequate to deter the crime.

The Ministry of Justice trained more than 180 law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges on victim identification, trafficking case investigations, and prosecuting alleged traffickers under the 2012 law. The ministry also distributed 200 copies of the law to judges, police, and magistrates during the trainings. Despite these efforts, continued lack of awareness of the 2012 law stymied law enforcement action, and the police’s system-wide lack of funding and resources, including vehicles and equipment necessary to investigate trafficking crimes, remained serious concerns. Reports alleged pervasive corruption throughout government security forces and the judiciary impeded efforts to prosecute crimes, including trafficking. There were reports corruption and complicity in trafficking offenses among local police and gendarmes in Farako may have facilitated forced labor and sex trafficking in mining communities. The non-government militia GATIA, led by a Malian general, used and recruited child soldiers during the reporting period, but the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of traffickers for child soldiering offenses, nor did it investigate any officials for complicity in such acts. During the reporting period, authorities arrested a former diplomat from Democratic Republic of the Congo for allegedly facilitating the transportation of Congolese girls to African, European, and Asian countries for exploitation. Authorities also arrested two Malian police officers who were alleged accomplices, and the investigation was ongoing at the end of the reporting period.

The government increased efforts to identify and protect some trafficking victims but continued to detain some former child soldiers recruited by non-government militias. Government officials and NGO partners identified 108 trafficking victims, primarily Nigerians and other West Africans exploited in Mali, and 35 potential child trafficking victims, compared with 48 victims identified in the previous reporting period. The National Police’s Brigade for the Protection of Morals and Children (BPMC) identified the 35 potential trafficking victims, two of whom it found working in nightclubs and 33 who were mistreated child domestic workers; it is unclear if the BPMC referred any of the children to services or investigated the cases. The government did not have standardized mechanisms to identify potential trafficking victims and refer them to care. The government provided nominal assistance to victims, including familial reunification and travel documentation, but primarily relied on privately-funded NGOs and international organizations to provide shelter, counseling, food, repatriation, and reintegration services. The Ministry for the Advancement of Children, Women, and Families had some facilities for vulnerable victims that trafficking victims could access, although it did not report if any did so during the reporting period. The government did not provide financial support to NGOs that assisted victims, although it did provide significant in-kind support to these facilities during the reporting period, including 270 beds, mattresses, mosquito nets, and blankets; 18 refrigerators; nine televisions; and food for 10 shelters. The government continued to rely on private and international donors to provide the majority of funding for the centers. Shelters and services for victims outside the capital remained limited, especially in the north. Foreign and domestic victims received the same services, and while some facilities could offer specialized services for females, there were no such services for males. The government did not report identifying or assisting any victims of hereditary slavery in areas where this practice was prevalent. During the reporting period, authorities provided transportation assistance to assist the repatriation of five Congolese trafficking victims. In collaboration with an NGO, the government also coordinated the repatriation of Malian nationals exploited abroad and the provision of food, shelter, and medical assistance upon repatriation. The government offered legal alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship. The government does not have formal policies to encourage victims to participate in trials against their traffickers. Victims may legally file civil suits against their traffickers, although the government did not report that any did so during the reporting period. International organizations continued to report viewing children among the ranks of rebel militias and terrorist organizations in the north. Despite the government’s 2013 inter-ministerial protocol that requires authorities to direct former child soldiers to rehabilitation centers, at least seven children remained in state-run detention facilities, including adult prisons, for association with armed groups; some of the children had been in detention since 2014. An international organization identified and referred to the National Directorate for the Promotion of Children and Families for care four ex-child combatants associated with GATIA, aged 14 to 17 years old; in violation of the 2013 protocol, however, the directorate gave the children to a government official who had ties to GATIA to facilitate family reunification; it is unclear if the children were reunited with their families.

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. Officials continued modest efforts to implement the 2015-2017 anti-trafficking national action plan. For the first time, the government created a line item in its annual budget specifically for anti-trafficking efforts and allocated an additional 200 million FCFA ($319,930) for such efforts during the reporting period, bringing the total funding allocated for anti-trafficking efforts in 2016 to 450 million FCFA ($719,840). It used this funding for trainings on the 2012 law, awareness-raising activities, and in-kind support for NGO victim shelters. The government also conducted an awareness-raising session on child forced begging for 30 Quranic school teachers, known as marabouts. The national committee, charged with coordinating government anti-trafficking efforts, met infrequently during the reporting period. The lack of coordination among committee members and ownership for individual responsibilities impeded its effectiveness and delayed the disbursement of funding for anti-trafficking activities. Labor inspectors remained without sufficient capacity or resources to regulate the informal sector, where most cases of forced labor occurred. The government did not make efforts to decrease the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts. It did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel or peacekeepers deployed abroad.

As reported over the past five years, Mali is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Internal trafficking is more prevalent than transnational trafficking; boys from Guinea and Burkina Faso, however, are subjected to forced labor in artisanal gold mines, and women and girls from other West African countries, particularly Nigeria, are exploited in prostitution and sex trafficking throughout Mali. Nigerian authorities estimate more than 5,000 Nigerian girls are victims of sex trafficking in Mali. Women and girls are forced into domestic servitude, agricultural labor, and support roles in artisanal gold mines. Men and boys are subjected to forced labor in agriculture—especially rice production—artisanal gold mines, domestic work, transportation, begging, and the informal commercial sector. NGOs reported concerns that high unemployment, food insecurity, and security threats are driving some families to sell their children into domestic servitude or forced labor in gold mines. Some members of Mali’s black Tuareg community are subjected to slavery practices rooted in traditional relationships of hereditary servitude, including in salt mines in Taoudeni in northern Mali, and reports indicate it is worsening. Malian boys and other West African nationals are forced to beg or perform agricultural work by unscrupulous marabouts in Mali and neighboring countries, including Senegal and Guinea. NGO reports indicate Malian children endure forced labor on cotton and cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire. Other Africans transiting Mali to Europe, primarily via Algeria and Libya and less so via Mauritania, are vulnerable to trafficking. Nigerian traffickers fraudulently recruit Nigerian women and girls with promises of taking them to Europe but exploit them in sex trafficking in Mali. Malian women and girls are victims of sex trafficking in Gabon, Libya, Lebanon, and Tunisia.

In early 2012, rebel and Islamic extremist groups occupied northern Mali. During their 2012-2013 occupation of the north, these terrorist organizations and armed groups recruited and used children, mostly boys, in combat, requiring children to carry weapons, staff checkpoints, guard prisoners, and conduct patrols. These groups reportedly used girls for sexual exploitation, including sex slavery through forced marriages to members of these militias. The armed groups purportedly forced some families to sell their children to the groups. Reports also indicate some parents collaborate with armed groups to insert their children into the group’s ranks so the parents can benefit from possible disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration assistance. During the reporting period, an international organization identified six Malian former child soldiers in a Mauritanian refugee camp; due to porous borders and families living on both sides of the border, it is possible Malian armed groups have also forcibly recruited some Mauritanian children to be child soldiers in Mali. The government provided some in-kind support to and collaborated with GATIA, a non-government militia led by a Malian general that used and recruited at least 76 children in 2016, including children as young as 11 years old and at least 14 girls. Although there is no evidence the Malian military recruits or uses child soldiers, poor military recordkeeping systems and the ready availability of fraudulent birth certificates impeded the government’s ability to verify the precise age of all Malian soldiers. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) investigated 23 cases of conflict-related sexual violence, including forced prostitution and sexual slavery, in Gao, Timbuktu, Kidal, and a refugee camp in Mauritania in 2016. MINUSMA investigated four members of GATIA, three members of the Mali Defense and Security Forces (MDSF), and civilians in these cases, although it did not report any prosecutions or convictions for trafficking offenses. The unstable security environment in and extremely restricted access to northern and central Mali, where the government exercises limited territorial control, limited the availability of comprehensive reporting. Furthermore, the security situation prevented government officials—including judges—from operating in certain regions of the country, limiting victims’ access to justice.

U.S. Department of State

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