As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Mali, and traffickers exploit victims from Mali abroad. Some families sell their children into domestic servitude or forced labor in gold mines. Internal trafficking is more prevalent than transnational trafficking. Labor traffickers exploit boys from Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso in agriculture—especially rice, cotton, dry cereal, and corn cultivation—artisanal gold mines, domestic work, transportation, begging, and the informal commercial sector. Corrupt Quranic teachers coerce and force Malian boys to beg or perform agricultural work in neighboring countries, including Senegal, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire. Slaveholders subject some members of Mali’s black Tuareg community to slavery practices rooted in traditional relationships of hereditary servitude. An NGO noted hereditary slavery practices in Mali differ from surrounding countries, as communities – rather than individuals or families – exploit victims of slavery. Traffickers exploit men and boys, primarily of Songhai ethnicity, in a long-standing practice of debt bondage in the salt mines of Taoudeni in northern Mali. NGO reports indicate traffickers exploit Malian children in 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. Traffickers recruit women and girls from other West African countries, particularly Nigeria and Benin, with promises of jobs as nurses or waitresses in Bamako, but instead exploit them in sex trafficking throughout Mali, especially in small mining communities. In January 2019, Nigerian authorities estimated more than 20,000 Nigerian girls are victims of sex trafficking in Mali, although this data has not been corroborated. An NGO reported sex trafficking of girls in Mali has steadily increased since 2005. Traffickers compel women and girls into sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic work, 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 147 Malians from Algeria and 1,305 Malians from Libya in 2019, compared to more than 1,430 Malians from Libya in 2017; while some returnees were identified as trafficking victims in 2017, the international organization did not identify any trafficking victims among the 2019 returnees.
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 much of Mali, particularly in the northern and central regions, limiting the government’s ability to administer justice, provide 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 use girls in combat, support roles, and for sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery through forced marriages to members of these militias. During the reporting period, authorities identified at least one girl held in sexual slavery by armed groups. The armed groups purportedly coerce some families to sell their children to the groups or compel 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 families reportedly insert their children into the ranks of armed groups because parents believe they will benefit from DDR assistance. According to an international organization, insecurity, the pandemic, and deteriorating economic conditions are leading to a rise in child trafficking, forced labor, and forced recruitment by armed groups in Mali. International observers reported artisanal gold mines controlled by armed groups remain a concern for trafficking, child labor, and child soldiering. In the past, a Malian armed group forcibly recruited Malian refugees in Mauritania to be child soldiers in Mali.
Malian security forces sometimes cooperated with non-government armed groups which recruited and used children, sometimes through force, fraud, or coercion. 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 children during the reporting period. Malian security forces allegedly cooperated with other non-government armed groups that recruited and used children during the reporting period. In October 2020, the government appointed members of armed groups to cabinet positions; it is unclear to what extent, if any, these individuals remain engaged in the armed groups. In September 2020, the government launched the Menaka without Weapons initiative, an operation carried out by Malian defense and security forces, Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA) and GATIA patrols with the support of MINUSMA and Operation Barkhane, to secure the town of Menaka. An international organization reported armed groups, including GATIA, were taking steps to complete a UN Action Plan that would bring them into compliance with international child protection laws, but the agreement had not been signed by the end of the reporting period; CMA signed a UN Action Plan in 2017, but continues to recruit and use children. During the reporting period, one international organization reported CMA used children younger than the age of 18 to manage checkpoints at gold mines under its control. During the previous reporting period, FAMa recruited and used at least 47 children between the ages of 9 and 14 years old in support roles in Gao region as couriers and domestic help. During the reporting period, an international organization reported FAMa personnel committed acts of conflict-related sexual violence, including child sex trafficking. In 2016, an international organization investigated GATIA officials, Malian Defense and Security Forces officers, and civilians for conflict-related sexual violence, including sex trafficking and sexual slavery.