Fourteen-year-old Salif has been missing since August. His mother, Amina Diallo, thinks Islamists kidnapped him on his way to the market in their hometown of Gao and recruited him as a child soldier.
While a French intervention allowed the Malian Army to reclaim the north of the country in January - it had been held for more than a year by militants comprising al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine and the Movement of Unity and Jihad in West Africa - this West African nation remains in turmoil. There are hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people, missing and abducted children.
"Wherever he is, he must know that I still pray for him to come back alive and well," Diallo says of her son.
She tried to search for Salif, only to be told by local authorities that they were sorry for her loss, and that the Malian Army was doing its best to find out where the children were taken. She and her four other children now live at a relative's home in Bamako, having left Gao last October. But despite Diallo's hopes that Salif might return, chances are unlikely.
The media relations director of Christian relief agency World Vision, Laura Blank, says children in Mali remain at risk.
"Unsupervised children are also vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence, including the potential to be recruited as child soldiers by armed groups. This continues to be a concern for World Vision."
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published in February found that children as young as 11 were placed on the Islamist rebel frontline. Shocked residents told HRW researchers that they saw bodies of child soldiers lying in pools of blood after the fighting. The United Nations Children's Fund reported at least 175 children were used as soldiers in the conflict last year.
Blank says that her organization is working with volunteers to share valuable child-protection messages with local communities, which will hopefully empower parents to keep their children safe.
"Children and their families remain vulnerable. They have increasingly limited access to food, water, medicines, and safe shelter, and are prone to diseases," Blank adds.
Not all children are reported to have taken part in active combat. Some were also used as porters, cooks and spies. Others were offered as sexual slaves to combatants.
Oumou Camara was forced to watch as heavily-armed gunmen, who conducted door-to-door operations in their area in Gao, snatched her 16-year-old daughter from her. They were looking for underage girls, widows and other unmarried women to "marry off" to the mujahidin.
"They took my daughter away at gunpoint and threatened to shoot us if anyone in the house objected," the mother of seven says. "I never saw her again."
Camara has given up all hope of ever finding her daughter and has no faith in the authorities. "What can the authorities do if they couldn't even fight their own war? I'm powerless and can only hope and pray."
Getting comment from the Malian government is impossible. The state has barred independent reporters from entering the war zone, and threatened to detain and prosecute anyone who publishes "sensitive information" that could incite mutiny under the current state of emergency.