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.