The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) says armed rebel groups controlling large parts of Northern Mali are recruiting child soldiers into their ranks. UNICEF in a report on Friday at the UN in New York said that at least 175 boys aged between 12 and 18 have been recruited since March 2012. The report was released by UNICEF spokesperson, Marixie Mercado.
It expressed concern over the vulnerability of children in Northern Mali, saying that there were reports of at least eight girls being raped or sexually abused.
UNICEF also added that children were also being killed or injured by explosive devises.
The agency said that insecurity in the region had forced nearly 300,000 children out of school, leaving them vulnerable to 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 to humanitarian workers is limited.
"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," the report said.
According to the report, UNICEF is also working on how to identify and support separated children, raising public awareness about risks for children, including recruitment into armed groups, and promoting education.
Meanwhile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said that at least 24 suspected cases of cholera have been reported in the city of Gao in Northern Mali. NAN