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Mali (Tier 2 Watch List)

The transition government of Mali does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included adopting a national referral mechanism (NRM) with standard procedures to identify and refer trafficking victims to care; increasing efforts to prevent signatory armed groups from recruiting and using children, including potential trafficking victims; and allocating more funding for anti-trafficking efforts. It partnered with an international organization to identify children recruited and used by armed groups, including potential trafficking victims, and referred most of those children to international organizations for care. However, the transition government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity. Substantial personnel turnover related to the May 2021 consolidation of military power that resulted in the upheaval of the previous transition government hindered Mali’s ability to maintain consistent anti-trafficking efforts and accurately report on those efforts for this reporting period. For the third consecutive year, the government did not take steps to amend the anti-trafficking law to explicitly define hereditary slavery as a form of human trafficking. The transition government reported minimal law enforcement action to address hereditary slavery, and observers reported officials continued prosecuting hereditary slavery cases as misdemeanor crimes. Its efforts to identify or protect hereditary slavery victims, including from acts of violence and retribution, were severely inadequate, and officials reportedly detained anti-slavery activists. Despite widespread allegations of complicity, the transition government did not investigate any law enforcement or government officials for complicity in trafficking crimes, including hereditary slavery and the forced recruitment or use of child soldiers. The transition government continued providing support to and collaborating with the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group (GATIA), a pro-government militia, despite allegations that GATIA has forcibly recruited and used children. Law enforcement continued to lack resources and understanding of human trafficking, which impeded law enforcement efforts. Shelter and services for victims, especially male victims, remained insufficient and was primarily restricted to Bamako. Because the transition government has devoted sufficient resources to a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards, Mali was granted a waiver per the Trafficking Victims Protection Act from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3. Therefore Mali remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the third consecutive year.

  • Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, and sentence convicted traffickers, including slaveholders and complicit officials, and those who recruit and use children, to significant prison terms.
  • Cease prosecuting hereditary slavery as a misdemeanor crime and amend the 2012 anti-trafficking law to effectively investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes involving hereditary slavery.
  • Increase efforts to identify victims of hereditary slavery and refer them to protective services in collaboration with civil society.
  • Implement the NRM and train criminal justice officials and social service providers on the procedures.
  • As part of the peace process, continue engaging signatory armed groups to prevent recruitment and use of children and cease support to armed groups that unlawfully recruit and use children.
  • Expand and strengthen reintegration programs for former child soldiers that address specific needs of child ex-combatants, including psycho-social care, family reintegration, education, and vocational training, and automatically refer all children associated with armed groups to care.
  • Screen vulnerable populations, including children associated with armed groups, individuals in commercial sex, and communities historically exploited in hereditary slavery, for trafficking indicators and refer them to appropriate services.
  • Cease targeting non-traffickers through spurious trafficking charges and the detention and harassment of anti-slavery activists.
  • Allocate dedicated budgets, resources, and personnel to the anti-trafficking committee and strengthen its authority to coordinate the government’s anti-trafficking response.
  • Train law enforcement on effective, victim-centered investigation techniques and trauma-sensitive approaches when interviewing victims.
  • Regularly train judges and prosecutors on the 2012 anti-trafficking law.
  • Provide financial and in-kind support to NGOs that identify and assist trafficking victims.
  • Adopt a new national action plan and allocate resources to its implementation.

The transition government maintained insufficient law enforcement efforts. Law 2012-023 Relating to the Combat against Trafficking in Persons and Similar Practices, as amended, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The law prescribed penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment for trafficking crimes, except forced begging for which it prescribed lesser penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 to 2 million West African CFA francs (FCFA) ($860-$3,440). These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. Transition government officials and NGOs reported that the law did not precisely define hereditary slavery and therefore could not be effectively implemented to prosecute trafficking cases involving hereditary slavery. Draft legislation that would revise the anti-trafficking law to explicitly define hereditary slavery as a form of human trafficking remained pending before the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) for the third consecutive year.

The transition government continued to lack a centralized data collection mechanism and did not systematically report law enforcement actions, making comprehensive statistics difficult to obtain. The transition government reported initiating at least 29 case investigations and continuing 50 case investigations, compared with investigating 59 cases, including at least 17 new case investigations, during the previous reporting period. The transition government prosecuted at least 41 alleged traffickers, compared with 78 during the previous reporting period, which included 22 alleged traffickers and 56 alleged slaveholders. During the reporting period, courts convicted 14 traffickers under the 2012 anti-trafficking law and sentenced each to at least two years’ imprisonment; six of the traffickers, all Nigerian nationals, were convicted in absentia. The transition government did not report issuing extradition requests during the reporting period. This compared with convictions of nine traffickers under the 2012 anti-trafficking law and 31 slaveholders of misdemeanors under penal code provisions during the previous reporting period. The transition government did not report the number of slaveholders prosecuted and convicted during the reporting period. However, observers reported officials continued prosecuting most hereditary slavery cases as misdemeanors under discrimination, destruction of crops, or burglary statutes, which prescribed significantly lower penalties than those available under the anti-trafficking law; as a result, the majority of slaveholders received a fully suspended prison sentence and a fine, which did not serve to deter or adequately reflect the nature of the crime. The transition government reported minimal law enforcement action to address hereditary slavery. However, in November 2021, the Minister of Justice issued a letter urging prosecutors to initiate criminal proceedings against all persons involved in hereditary slavery using penal code provisions; the Minister also ordered an assessment of the Kayes judiciary’s actions on hereditary slavery cases and strengthening measures to combat slavery. In February 2022, authorities arrested 34 suspects accused of torturing individuals who refused to submit to slavery in the Kayes region; 27 suspects remained in detention during the investigation. In addition, authorities arrested 50 suspected slaveholders and sympathizers in November 2021 following a series of attacks on anti-slavery activists. Both cases remained pending before an investigative judge at the end of the reporting period.

The Brigade de Moeurs (a brigade charged with investigating crimes related to morality) was the primary law enforcement agency investigating sex trafficking and cases involving children, and the Specialized Judiciary Brigade and Specialized Investigative Brigade investigated and prosecuted transnational trafficking. The Migrant Smuggling and Trafficking Brigade, created in October 2019 with the assistance of a foreign donor, investigated illicit migration and migrant smuggling, including potential trafficking cases. These units were not dedicated solely to human trafficking, lacked adequate resources and training, and could not access portions of the country due to insecurity. International organizations, with some transition government support, trained judges, prosecutors, law enforcement, and other transition government stakeholders on investigating and prosecuting human trafficking and migrant smuggling cases. Despite these efforts, continued lack of awareness of the 2012 anti-trafficking law and frequent turnover and transfers of officials stymied law enforcement action. Additionally, law enforcement’s system-wide lack of training, funding, and resources, including vehicles and equipment to investigate crimes, impeded anti-trafficking efforts. The transition government had limited or no judicial presence outside of Bamako and some regional capitals in Mali, primarily in the north and center of the country, due to continuing security challenges. Insufficient funding and judicial staffing levels limited regular sessions of the Court of Assizes—which heard all serious criminal felony cases, including trafficking—and caused significant judicial delays. Insecurity and instability limited court sessions outside of Bamako and some regional capitals and further exacerbated judicial delays.

The transition government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of transition government officials complicit in human trafficking crimes, including hereditary slavery, or unlawful child soldiering; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action. Reports of complicity allegations included traffickers paying bribes to security agents, corrupt law enforcement agents returning victims to their traffickers or alerting traffickers to law enforcement presence, and law enforcement agents coercing victims to pay bribes to avoid fines or obtain fraudulent identity documents. According to NGO reports, the Mali Basketball Federation attempted to cover up allegations the head coach of the national girls basketball team, comprised of children, sexually abused at least three players, which at times included sex trafficking—soliciting sex in exchange for playing time, money, and equipment and threatening imprisonment if the girls reported the abuse; authorities arrested and indicted him for sexual abuse in July 2021. International observers reported signatory armed groups receiving government support—such as GATIA, a pro-government militia and subsidiary of armed group Platform, a signatory to the 2015 Algiers Accord—continued recruiting and using child soldiers.

The transition government maintained insufficient efforts to identify and protect all trafficking victims. The transition government identified 130 trafficking victims, including 55 sex trafficking victims, 33 labor trafficking victims, 26 children recruited and used by armed groups, and 16 victims where the form of trafficking was unknown, compared with 73 trafficking victims identified during the previous reporting period. As in past years, the transition government did not report identifying any victims of hereditary slavery during the reporting period. The transition government referred the majority of identified victims to NGOs for care. Additionally, the transition government and an international organization identified at least 153 children associated with armed groups, compared to at least 230 children in 2020; authorities separated and referred 110 of the children for care, while 43 children remained unaccounted for.

The transition government, in coordination with an international organization and foreign donor, adopted and validated an NRM with standard operating procedures to identify and refer victims to care in September 2021. The transition government did not begin implementing the NRM during the reporting period, but it worked closely with the Fodé and Yeguine Network for Action (RAFY), a national network composed of NGOs, international organizations, and transition government ministries, including the Ministry for the Advancement of Women, Children, and the Family (MFFE), to refer identified trafficking victims to service providers. Officials reported the network did not adequately function due to poor coordination between members. RAFY and other NGOs assisted 104 identified trafficking victims by providing shelter, referring victims to NGOs for services, or assisting with repatriations; the transition government provided 157 million FCFA ($269,830) in in-kind and financial support for their operations. An international organization assisted an additional 187 trafficking victims, including 160 women, two men, 18 girls, and seven boys; the majority of victims were Nigerian (170), followed by nine Cameroonians, six Nigeriens, and two Guineans. The transition government relied on NGOs to provide the majority of services, funded by private and international donors. NGOs operated 10 transit centers for adult and child victims of crime, including one specialized shelter for female adult trafficking victims in Bamako. Services varied by location but generally included short-term shelter, food, counseling, transportation, repatriation, and reintegration assistance. MFFE’s general care facilities also assisted some trafficking victims. Shelters and services for victims outside the capital remained limited, especially in the north. Foreign and domestic victims received the same services, and services were not contingent upon cooperation with law enforcement. While some facilities offered specialized services for female victims, there were no such services for male victims. The transition government continued collaborating with international organizations to repatriate Malians exploited abroad and foreign victims exploited in Mali. An international organization assessed victim services remained inadequate. An international organization opened a transit center for migrants in the capital, providing voluntary return and reintegration services for both men and women. A local NGO screened and provided services to child victims of hereditary slavery; two others provided assistance such as legal and psychosocial support to victims of hereditary slavery. In 2021, there were at least eight attacks on slavery victims and anti-slavery activists in the Kayes region, killing one and injuring 77.

The transition government did not offer legal alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship; however, most identified victims were ECOWAS nationals who did not require special status to remain in Mali. Officials reported law enforcement lacked facilities to conduct interviews that allowed for separation between victims and alleged perpetrators; however, victims could provide written testimony to law enforcement. Sources reported authorities pressured victims to provide rushed statements for fear that victims would be unavailable or unwilling to provide future statements once they entered NGO and international organization shelters. Victims could file civil suits against their traffickers; however, no victims reportedly used this provision, and many victims were unaware of the option. There were no reports the transition government detained or otherwise penalized trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; however, due to a lack of formal identification procedures, authorities may have detained some unidentified trafficking victims. Officials reportedly imprisoned four anti-slavery activists in the Kayes region, including the founder of an anti-slavery organization; the transition government did not report whether the activists remained detained at the end of the reporting period. Authorities had previously arrested and imprisoned activists on spurious child trafficking charges; authorities had released all 13 activists by the end of the reporting period, while the charges against them still stood, and the case remained under investigation.

Authorities continued following the government’s 2013 inter-ministerial protocol requiring them to direct former child soldiers to rehabilitation centers, and observers reported officials had a better understanding of the protocol. The handover protocol required authorities to immediately transfer children identified within Bamako; outside of the capital, authorities must notify child protection actors within 24 hours and transfer the children within 48 hours. However, observers reported authorities continued to inappropriately detain some children for alleged affiliation with signatory and non-signatory armed groups. Of the 15 children detained during the previous reporting period, the transition government determined six were younger than the age of 18; authorities released three of the children to child protection actors and continued detaining the remaining three. An international organization reported concerns the transition government held some children, including potential trafficking victims, with adults in central prison, which increased their vulnerability to further exploitation.

The transition government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The transition government continued implementing the 2018-2022 National Plan of Action (PAN) to combat trafficking in persons and regularly convened its national anti-trafficking committee (CNCTLPA), chaired by the MOJ. However, the lack of coordination and ownership for activities in the PAN among committee members continued to impede its effectiveness. The transition government lacked dedicated staff to work on trafficking, including the role of chairman of the anti-trafficking committee, which severely impeded the transition government’s efforts to consistently coordinate anti-trafficking activities. The transition government allocated 226 million FCFA ($388,420) for the PAN’s implementation, including anti-trafficking trainings and support for NGOs, an increase from 220 million FCFA ($378,110) allocated the previous year. The National Unit to Fight Against Child Labor (CNLTE), chaired by the Ministry of Labor, coordinated transition government efforts to combat child labor and included dedicated child labor inspectors; the transition government allocated 32 million FCFA ($55,000) to the CNLTE in 2021. In partnership with civil society, the transition government held awareness campaigns and trainings on child forced begging for community leaders and Quranic teachers. It also provided some support to an NGO training on human trafficking in artisanal gold mines. The transition government made limited efforts to raise awareness of and address hereditary slavery. The Kayes regional government adopted a charter to end hereditary slavery practices and held public awareness raising events.

The Ministry of Defense continued implementing its edict banning children from all deployed military camps, and it had a designated child soldier focal point to coordinate with international organizations when allegations of child soldiering arise. In August 2021, both factions of signatory armed group Platform, of which GATIA is a member, signed UN action plans designed to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers; international organizations began working with the group’s two factions to operationalize the plans. In September 2021, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs completed a draft child soldiers prevention plan with international actors and referred it to the Office of the Prime Minister for review; the draft plan included measures to sensitize transition government officials and signatory armed group members on child soldier issues and increase coordination when cases are identified.

The transition government did not make efforts to address fraudulent recruitment of Malians abroad. Labor inspectors lacked sufficient capacity or resources to regulate the informal sector, where most cases of forced labor occurred. The transition government did not report efforts to implement provisions prohibiting child labor and child trafficking in gold mines and quarries under its 2019 mining law. The transition government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The transition government did not systematically train its diplomatic personnel on human trafficking, but the CNCTLPA reported it provided one diplomatic training for some diplomats in coordination with an international organization during the report period. The transition government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its troops prior to their deployment as peacekeepers. The police operated a hotline for crimes against women and children, although it did not report receiving any trafficking calls.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Mali, and traffickers exploit victims from Mali abroad. Internal trafficking is more prevalent than transnational trafficking. Some families sell their children into domestic servitude or forced labor in gold mines. 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 exploit boys from Mali and neighboring countries, including Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, and Senegal, in forced begging or other forms of forced labor, and corrupt Quranic teachers exploit Malian boys in forced begging in neighboring countries. 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. An international organization report estimates there are 300,000 victims of hereditary slavery in Mali. 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. Traffickers exploit Malian children in forced labor on cotton and cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire. Traffickers exploit Malian women and girls in sex trafficking in Gabon, Libya, Lebanon, and Tunisia and in 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 or beauty parlors in Europe or the United States 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. An NGO report attributes some of the increased demand for sex trafficking in mining communities to cultural and religious beliefs, correlating sex with increased chances of finding gold, and it also noted corruption schemes involving complicit officials and community authorities perpetuated trafficking.

Traffickers exploit boys in forced labor in informal gold mines, particularly in Gao and Kidal; third parties sometimes “financed” transportation to mining sites, requiring them to work for an unspecified time to pay off the debt. An international organization reported armed groups exploit children in forced labor in gold mines and extort adults operating in the mines via a “tax” to finance their activities. 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. There are widespread reports of corruption and complicity among officials, including official interference in trafficking and hereditary slavery cases; allegations law enforcement agents accepted bribes from traffickers or coerced victims to pay bribes and returned victims to traffickers; and reports Malian armed forces (FAMa) personnel engaged in child sex trafficking.

In 2021, an estimated 7.1 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance, and there were more than 400,000 IDPs. The transition 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 transition 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 groups use 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 armed groups. In 2020, authorities identified at least one girl held in sexual slavery by armed groups. Armed groups purportedly coerce some families to sell their children to the groups or compel communities to give up teenage boys to the groups for “community protection.” An international organization reported traffickers fraudulently recruit some children for education in Quranic schools but force 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 Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration assistance. According to an international organization, insecurity, the pandemic, and deteriorating socioeconomic 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 2017, a Malian armed group forcibly recruited Malian refugees in Mauritania to be child soldiers in Mali. Unaccompanied children among IDPs are at heightened risk of recruitment by armed groups inside of Mali.

Malian security forces cooperated with a signatory armed group that recruited and used children, sometimes through force, fraud, or coercion. The transition government provided in-kind support to and collaborated with GATIA, a pro-government militia (affiliated with Platform, a signatory armed group), which recruited and used children during the reporting period. Malian security forces allegedly cooperated in past reporting periods with other non-government armed groups that recruited and used children. The transition government appointed members of signatory armed groups to cabinet positions; it is unclear to what extent, if any, these individuals remain engaged in the armed groups. In August 2021, both factions of signatory armed group Platform, of which GATIA is a member, signed UN action plans designed to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA) began working with international actors to implement its UN Action Plan signed in 2017. However, both GATIA and CMA continue to recruit and use children. In 2020, an international organization reported CMA used children younger than the age of 18 to manage checkpoints at gold mines under its control. From 2014 to 2019, 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. An international organization reported FAMa personnel committed acts of conflict-related sexual violence, including sexually exploiting girls in exchange for food and other goods, in 2019.

U.S. Department of State

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