BAMAKO/GENEVA - UNICEF today expressed grave concern over the situation in northern Mali, where evidence shows children are being killed or injured by explosive devices and recruited into armed groups amid reports of rape and sexual abuse.

The evidence gathered since the end of March shows that:

· At least 175 boys (ages 12-18) have been recruited into armed groups;

· At least 8 girls were raped or sexually abused; and

· Two boys ages 14 and 15 were killed in separate incidents related to unexploded ordnance, and 18 children were maimed.

The closure of the vast majority of schools across the region is further cause for concern, affecting up to 300,000 children in basic education alone. Children out of school are at a higher risk of recruitment, violence and exploitation.

“These numbers are reason for alarm especially because they represent only a partial picture of the child protection context in the north – an area where access for humanitarian workers is limited,” said Theophane Nikyema, UNICEF’s Representative in Mali.

“Children in the North are witnessing or becoming victims of violence and they must be protected.”

UNICEF is working with local partners in the conflict-affected regions of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu as well as the bordering region of Mopti to strengthen communities’ ability to protect children – how to identify and support separated children, raising public awareness about risks for children, including recruitment into armed groups, and promoting education.

The unrest in northern Mali is at the same time as a severe nutritional crisis unfolds across much of the Sahel, which is now at the peak of the precarious ‘lean season’ between harvests. Some 560,000 young children in Mali are at risk of acute malnutrition this year, including between 175,000 and 220,000 who require life-saving treatment.

The vast majority of malnourished children live in the southern parts of the country, but conditions in the north have sharply reduced access for families to food, water and basic health care. More than 330,000 people, a fifth of them children, have fled their homes, with 150,000 internally displaced inside Mali, and over 180,000 seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.

UNICEF has provided emergency health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene and household supplies to partners working in Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, and is reaching children with vaccinations, nutritional supplements and deworming medication wherever possible.

Across the country, over 70,000 children have been treated for acute malnutrition since the beginning of the year, and in the past week UNICEF and partners supported the national health authorities in reaching almost 6 million children with polio vaccinations, vitamin A supplements and deworming medication.

Additional funding is critical – just 21 per cent of UNICEF Mali’s US$58 million appeal for 2012 has been met, and just 10 per cent of the child protection target has been reached.

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For more information, contact Alicia Jones aliciaj@unicef.org.uk
+44 (0)20 7375 6030 

About UNICEF

UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation working for children and their rights in more than 190 countries. As champion of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF works to help every child realise their full potential. Together with our partners, UNICEF delivers health care, nutrition, education and protection to children in urgent need, while working with governments to ensure they deliver on their promise to protect and promote the rights of every child. UNICEF relies entirely on voluntary donations from individuals, governments, institutions and corporations, and is not funded by the UN budget. For more information, please visit www.unicef.org.uk.