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. Humanitarian actors report high unemployment, food insecurity, and security threats drive some families to sell their children into domestic servitude or forced labor in gold mines. Internal trafficking is more prevalent than transnational trafficking. Boys from Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso are subjected to forced labor in agriculture—especially rice production—artisanal gold mines, domestic work, transportation, begging, and the informal commercial sector. Malian boys are also forced to beg or perform agricultural work by unscrupulous Quranic teachers in neighboring countries, including Senegal and Guinea. Some members of Mali’s black Tuareg community are subjected to slavery practices rooted in traditional relationships of hereditary servitude. Men and boys, primarily of Songhai ethnicity, were subjected to a long-standing practice of debt bondage in the salt mines of Taoudeni in northern Mali. NGO reports indicate Malian children endure forced labor on cotton and cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire. Malian women and girls are victims of sex trafficking in Gabon, Libya, Lebanon, and Tunisia and domestic servitude in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia. Women and girls from other West African countries, particularly Nigeria and Benin, are recruited with promises of jobs as nurses or waitresses in Bamako but exploited in sex trafficking throughout Mali, including in Chinese-run hotels and especially in small mining communities. Nigerian authorities estimate more than 5,000 Nigerian girls are victims of sex trafficking in Mali. Traffickers force women and girls into domestic servitude, agricultural labor, and support roles in artisanal gold mines. Reports allege corruption and complicity among local police and gendarmes in Farako may have facilitated forced labor and sex trafficking in mining communities. Africans transiting Mali to Europe, primarily via Algeria and Libya and less so via Mauritania, are vulnerable to trafficking, and Nigerian traffickers exploit Nigerian women in sex trafficking in Mali en route to Europe. An international organization repatriated more than 1,430 Malians from Libya in 2017, some of whom may have been trafficking victims.
During the reporting period, the government did not exercise control over the majority of its territory and lost ground it had previously regained. Justice officials had no or an extremely limited presence in four of Mali’s eight regions, limiting the government’s ability to provide justice, victim services, and gather data. Since early 2012, rebel and Islamic extremist groups have occupied parts of northern Mali. Terrorist organizations and armed groups continue to recruit and use children, mostly boys, in combat, requiring children to carry weapons, staff checkpoints, guard prisoners, and conduct patrols; some used boys for running errands and spying. Some of these groups have also used girls in combat, support roles, and for sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery through forced marriages to members of these militias. The armed groups purportedly force some families to sell their children to the groups or coerced communities into giving up teenage boys to the groups for “community protection.” An international organization reported traffickers fraudulently recruited some children for education in Quranic schools but forced them to fight with armed groups. Some poor families reportedly insert their children into the ranks of armed groups because parents believe they will benefit from disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration assistance. In the past, a Malian armed group forcibly recruited Malian refugees in Mauritania to be child soldiers in Mali. The government provided in-kind support to and collaborated with GATIA, a non-governmental armed group led by a Malian general that used and recruited at least nine children during the reporting period. In 2016, an international organization investigated GATIA officials, Malian Defense and Security Forces officers, and civilians for conflict-related sexual violence, including forced prostitution and sexual slavery.