A human rights group says children recruited as soldiers - and those believed to have ties with armed groups - are being illegally detained in Mali. Amnesty International says they are being held alongside adults, and some claim they've been tortured by Malian forces.
Since early last year, human rights organizations have warned that armed groups and government-back self-defense militias were recruiting child soldiers. A year later, there's growing concern about their safety.
Gaetan Mootoo -- an Amnesty researcher on Africa - said some are being detained at a gendarmerie camp in the capital, Bamako.
"We came across children, who were held in detention with adults, which is kind of contrary to all international instruments and also to the Malian law. And what we noticed is that some of the kids who were in detention ... went of their [own] free will to the gendarmerie. They were arrested because there was an announcement calling for people who had collaborated with the armed groups to surrender."
He said they received harsh treatment even though they had turned themselves in voluntarily.
"Afterwards, when they went to the police station, they were arrested, interrogated by a judge. They signed a paper, but the judge didn't read the testimony, which he had recorded. And so these people are held in detention with adults," he said.
Amnesty spoke to nine of the detained children, who ranged in age from 13 to 17. Mootoo says some of them were arrested in northern Mali towns by joint Mali and French forces.
Mootoo said, "These kids should have been handed over to special centers and also to organizations dealing with children, and this was not the case."
Some said they were tortured.
"One of the kids told me that he was threatened. Another told me that he was strangled. And another told me that he was suspended to the ceiling, and they threatened him with electric shocks. And also they threatened him with death," he said.
The children told Amnesty researchers that they joined the armed groups because they were poor and expected to be paid by the MUJAO - the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa. Many left when they were not paid. Others followed in the footsteps of friends who had joined.
Amnesty says there are still child soldiers in the field, but their whereabouts and condition are unknown. Amnesty International and other groups are calling on the U.N. mission in Mali, MINUSMA, to develop programs to reintegrate them into society.
The United Nations has released a new report that says thousands of children have been recruited, injured and killed while with armed groups over the past year. It says the situation is getting worse in Mali, Syria and Central African Republic.