Eye-witnesses and human rights groups report that children are actively involved in the fighting in Mali. Child fighters are charged with patrolling, scouting combat zones and staffing checkpoints. Children from 11 to 16 have been seen fighting in Konna, and manning checkpoints in Douentza, Boré and Gao.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Islamic groups like Ansar Dine, Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, have recruited, trained and used several hundred children in their forces since April 2012.
Mothers searching for their recruited children have been reported by residents in the northern city of Gao.
Oumar Diakité, a resident of Konna in Mopti Region said, “They [recruiters] make them believe that if they die they’ll go straight to paradise because they are defending God’s will. I know a woman who had her son in the ranks. Luckily we were able to find him and save him just in time.”
Ibrahim Ag Idbaltanat, director of Malian human rights group TEMEDT, stated in October 2012 that children in northern Mali were being recruited through Koranic schools that taught them how to prepare and dismantle an AK-47.
Diakité noted that the children from Koranic schools are often in the most danger: “during clashes, they put these children – often just Koranic students – into the front line.”
A Human rights communiqué reported that children staff checkpoints in areas that have come under aerial bombardment by the French air force.
In late 2012, children joined military training groups in southern Mali. Some of these groups were run by retired Malian soldiers who were preparing to fight Islamist groups in the north. Human rights groups state that these milita groups have not yet begun to fight.
Gao hospital is treating wounded children. Reports have also reached HRW that children are being removed from hospitals to be treated in Islamist camps.