New York — With military operations ongoing in Mali, UNICEF is calling 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.
UNICEF is gravely concerned about children being used in fighting. 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.