Mali is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Within Mali, women and girls are forced into domestic servitude, agricultural labor, and support roles in artisanal gold mines, as well as subjected to sex trafficking. Malian boys are found in conditions of forced labor in agriculture, artisanal gold mines, and the informal commercial sector; boys from Guinea and Burkina Faso are also found in forced labor in artisanal gold mines in Mali. Adult men and boys, primarily of Songhai ethnicity, are subjected to a longstanding practice of debt bondage in the salt mines of Taoudenni in northern Mali. Some members of Mali’s black Tamachek community are subjected to traditional slavery-related practices rooted in hereditary master-slave relationships; this involuntary servitude reportedly has extended to their children. Boys from Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, and other countries are forced into begging and other types of forced labor or service by corrupt marabouts (religious teachers), within Mali and in neighboring countries. Reports indicate that Malian children are transported to Senegal and Guinea for forced labor in gold mines, and to Cote d’Ivoire for forced labor on cotton and cocoa farms. Women and girls from other West African countries are subjected to prostitution in Mali. Malians and other Africans—who travel through Mali to Mauritania, Algeria, or Libya in hopes of reaching Europe—are at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking. Malian girls and women are trafficked to Gabon, Libya, Lebanon, and Tunisia for commercial sexual exploitation.
Early in 2012, extremist and terrorist groups invaded and occupied the northern region of Mali; throughout the reporting period, the Malian government had no effective presence in the occupied region of the country. There have been reports that non-governmental armed groups operating in the north recruited children on a large scale. These children were used as combatants, as well as cooks, porters, guards, and spies. While the majority of children associated with armed groups are boys, reports indicate that girls may also recruited and later forced to serve as sex slaves. In areas occupied by armed groups, women and girls were also subjected to forced marriage to members of armed groups who forced parents to relinquish their daughters, sometimes paying a sum of money, and subsequently taking the women to be raped by fellow combatants. There is at least one confirmed report of forced recruitment of adults; lack of access to the region has prevented NGOs and international organizations from verifying additional cases.
The Government of Mali does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The country underwent an unconstitutional change in government at the beginning of the reporting period. During the year, the elected legislature continued to function; it enacted a comprehensive anti-trafficking law prepared by the previous government and identified and referred 81 victims of trafficking to NGO services. Despite these efforts, the regime did not demonstrate evidence of overall increasing efforts to address human trafficking over the previous year; therefore, Mali is placed on Tier 2 Watch List. The government failed to prosecute or convict any trafficking offenders, did not provide any direct services to trafficking victims, and did not make any tangible prevention efforts. After the coup, foreign donors reduced assistance pending Mali’s transition to an elected government. Citing this lack of resources, the interim government reduced some ongoing protection and prevention activities and it did not have the capacity to expand these efforts.
Recommendations for Mali: Re-establish government capabilities to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, particularly cases of traditional slavery and forced prostitution, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; investigate and, as appropriate, prosecute trafficking offenses involving women and girls brought into and through the country for forced or child prostitution; train law enforcement officials, particularly those to be deployed to the north, to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as women in prostitution and those in traditional slavery, and refer them to protective services; with international assistance, develop and implement programs for the disarmament, demobilization, and re-integration of former combatants that take into account the specific needs of child ex-combatants; improve data collection on trafficking crimes and the number of victims identified and referred by government authorities to service providers for care; empower the National Coordinating Committee for the Fight Against Trafficking in Persons and Associated Practices in order to effectively implement the national action plan; and increase efforts to raise public awareness about human trafficking.
The Government of Mali decreased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the year. The interim government passed a comprehensive anti-trafficking law, Law 2012-023 Relating to the Combat against Trafficking in Persons and Similar Practices, drafted by the previous government, which prohibits all forms of trafficking in adults and children. The law prescribes penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment, and a maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment for cases involving aggravating circumstances; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. This law defines trafficking to include “slavery or analogous practices to slavery,” which filled a gap in pre-existing Malian laws that did not adequately address the issue of hereditary slavery. Despite this legislative achievement, authorities only investigated and apprehended six alleged trafficking offenders for crimes related to forced artisanal mining and child sex tourism. While these suspects remain in custody, the government did not commence any prosecutions during the reporting period; this represents a significant decrease from 2011, during which the government reported 24 investigations, 11 prosecutions, and seven convictions for trafficking-related offenses. Twelve prosecutions from 2011, involving trafficking of children to work in artisanal gold mines, remained pending during the reporting period, and the defendants remained in pre-trial detention. During the year, the government was unable to re-establish basic government services, rule of law, or a functioning court system in the north. At least three pending criminal cases of traditional slavery, prevalent in the north, that have been stalled in courts for more than four years continued to go unaddressed. Additionally, seven civil lawsuits filed by trafficking victims and the parents of child victims of hereditary slavery in Ansongo and Menaka have not been heard due to a shutdown of courts in the north. The government provided no anti-trafficking training to its officials. It did not report the investigation or prosecution of government officials for complicity in trafficking-related offenses during the reporting period; however, general corruption is pervasive throughout the security forces and judiciary.
The Government of Mali sustained modest efforts to protect trafficking victims during the year. Its officials and NGO partners identified 81 trafficking victims, all of them children, who were referred to NGOs for services. The vast majority of the victims were initially identified by police, gendarmes, border control officers, or regional officials of the Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Children, and the Family. The government and NGOs also identified 137 child combatants during the reporting period. Government health care centers assisted the child trafficking victims before returning them to their families. The government does not have formal written procedures in place to identify potential victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations; however, border patrol officials systematically stopped suspected transnational trafficking attempts on at least three separate occasions, resulting in the rescue of 39 Burkinabe children in the city of Kayes. Additionally, police conducted age checks at brothels to ensure that all individuals engaging in prostitution were of adult age; no children were identified by police during the reporting period.
Despite increasing reports of large numbers of children forced to labor in artisanal gold mines within Mali, the government continued to cite a lack of personnel and resources as reasons for its inability to adequately identify and rescue victims in this sector. The government previously operated regional welcome centers through which government officials provided basic support to trafficking victims before referring them to NGO-operated shelters or other forms of care. After the coup d’etat, the government ceased the operation of these centers, claiming a lack of funding. It did not directly offer shelter or other services to victims, but actively referred them to NGOs for medical assistance, shelter, counseling, repatriation, and financial assistance. The government did not have a presence to report identifying or assisting any victims of traditional slavery in areas where these practices are prevalent. There were no reports that trafficking victims were penalized for unlawful acts committed as a result of being trafficked, though the problems with victim identification make this likely. Some adult female trafficking victims assisted with the identification and investigation of their alleged Nigerian traffickers, leading to their prosecution in Nigerian courts during the reporting period.
The Government of Mali demonstrated decreased efforts to prevent trafficking during the last year. It did not conduct any awareness-raising campaigns, workshops, or training efforts during the reporting period. Although the new anti-trafficking law included a national action plan, the plan was not implemented due to a lack of funding. The National Coordinating Committee for the Fight Against Trafficking in Persons and Associated Practices, which is charged with coordinating government anti-trafficking efforts, did not meet regularly and was not provided an adequate budget to operate effectively. The government made no tangible efforts to decrease the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts in Mali during the reporting period. Although Mali is not believed to be a popular destination for child sex tourism, the government identified only two cases of suspected child sex tourists during the reporting period.