Keep children out of harm’s way: UNICEF to armed Mali groups

Sunday, January 20, 2013
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New York: With military operations ongoing in Mali, UNICEF has called on commanders of all armed forces, groups and militias in Mali to take every possible measure to protect children from the impact of hostilities – to stop the recruitment and use of children in their ranks and keep children out of harm’s way.

“Commanders are obligated to immediately release any child under the age of 18 who is currently associated with their group to minimize children’s exposure to the dangers of combat,” said Pernille Ironside, a specialist with Child Protection in Emergencies at UNICEF in New York.

“The Malian Armed Forces and allies must do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties, including women and children,” she added.

In a written statement issued to the press, the UN body said that it is “gravely concerned” about children being used in fighting.

According to the UNICEF officials, there is a “high risk” of separation from their families, which can make children much more vulnerable to many forms of abuse, including recruitment, sexual abuse, child trafficking and other forms of violence against children.

“There is also the danger that in the event of the armed groups retreating or fleeing, children will be left behind and vulnerable to revenge attacks,” the statement further said.

Fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels broke out in northern Mali in January, 2012. The instability and insecurity resulting from the renewed clashes, as well as the proliferation of armed groups in the region, drought and political instability in the wake of a military coup d'état in March, have led over 250,000 Malians to flee to neighbouring countries, with 174,000 Malians estimated to be internally displaced.
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