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, and subjected to sex trafficking. Malian boys are subjected to forced labor in agriculture, artisanal gold mines, and the informal commercial sector. Boys from Guinea and Burkina Faso are also subjected to 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 (Bellah) community are subjected to slavery-related practices rooted in traditional relationships of hereditary servitude. This involuntary servitude reportedly has been transferred from adults 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 travelling 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. There were 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 have also been 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 in exchange for a sum of money. Traffickers subsequently took some of these women and girls to be raped by fellow combatants. During the reporting period, as the Malian government began to regain partial control of the northern region of the country, the number of children associated with these instances of trafficking decreased; however, NGOs and international organizations estimate that many children may still be associated with armed groups. Limited access continues to prevent comprehensive reporting.
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. Despite these efforts, the government did not demonstrate evidence of overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Mali is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year. During the reporting period, the government investigated 13 trafficking cases, identified and referred 79 victims to NGO services, and rehabilitated 25 child soldiers. However, 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.
Recommendations for Mali:
Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; vigorously investigate, prosecute and, where appropriate, convict government officials complicit in human trafficking; adequately inform and train judicial personnel about the 2012 anti-trafficking law; provide training to law enforcement officials to investigate trafficking cases, identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, and refer them to protective services; continue to implement programs for the disarmament, demobilization, and re-integration of former child combatants that take into account the specific needs of child ex-combatants; convene the National Coordinating Committee for the Fight Against Trafficking in Persons and Associated Practices; allocate appropriate funding in order to effectively implement the national plan of action; and increase efforts to raise public awareness about human trafficking.
The Government of Mali maintained minimal anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Law 2012-023 Relating to the Combat against Trafficking in Persons and Similar Practices 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. Despite enacting this law in August 2012, there remained a significant lack of awareness of the law among the judiciary, in part because the Ministry of Justice has not yet distributed the law to judges. The government investigated 13 cases of trafficking during the reporting period; however, it did not initiate any prosecutions or convict any trafficking offenders. Of the 13 cases investigated, five involved Koranic school teachers forcing their students to beg, six involved cases of commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls, and two involved the forced labor of children in gold mines. Twenty-three alleged traffickers were arrested in relation to these cases and at least four remained in custody at the end of the reporting period. Seven of the alleged traffickers are from Nigeria and were arrested in coordination with the Nigerian government’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons. The government provided no specialized 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 sustained modest efforts to protect trafficking victims. Government officials and NGO partners identified 79 trafficking victims and referred them to NGOs for services. Twenty-nine women and girls were victims of commercial sexual exploitation and 50 girls and boys were victims of forced labor in artisanal gold mining or forced begging. The government did not directly offer shelter or other services to victims, but actively referred them to NGOs for medical assistance, shelter, counseling, and financial assistance. Despite its substantial reliance on NGOs, the government did not provide financial support to these organizations. In one case, the government worked with the Nigerian government to repatriate 22 Nigerian girls who had been trafficked to Mali for sexual exploitation. The government did not report identifying or assisting any victims of traditional slavery in areas where these practices are prevalent. This lack of identification reflects limited government presence in these areas. The government did not actively encourage trafficking victims to assist in the prosecution of their traffickers. It offers legal alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship; all victims identified during the reporting period were ECOWAS country citizens and therefore, were able to stay within the country.
Rebel forces continued to use child soldiers during the reporting period. The government did not identify any child soldiers in the Malian armed forces; however, poor record keeping systems within the military, coupled with the ability to easily obtain fraudulent birth certificates, limits the ability to verify the precise age of all Malian soldiers. During the reporting period, the government partnered with UNICEF to create the Center of Transit and Orientation, which provides rehabilitation services to children associated with armed groups. The center provided rehabilitative services to 25 children who had been recruited and used by rebel forces and reconnected 13 of them with their families. Twelve children remained in the center at the end of the reporting period. While there were no reports that trafficking victims were penalized for unlawful acts committed as a result of being trafficked, there were several reports by NGOs and international organizations that Malian security forces detained and interrogated captured child soldiers for intelligence gathering purposes during the reporting period, some of whom may have been trafficking victims.
The Government of Mali made negligible efforts to prevent trafficking. It did not conduct any awareness-raising campaigns, workshops, or training efforts during the reporting period. Although the 2012 anti-trafficking law included a national action plan, the government took no steps toward its implementation. The National Coordinating Committee for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons which is charged with coordinating government anti-trafficking efforts, was inactive during the reporting period and did not receive any funding. The Ministry of Labor employed 54 labor inspectors; none of these labor inspectors received anti-trafficking training and they have no capacity to regulate the informal sector, where most cases of forced labor occur. The government made no tangible efforts to decrease the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts in Mali during the reporting period.