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Mali’s Child Soldiers

In the face of tension over economic, environmental, and religious issues, one of the most consistent problems that Africa faces is conflict with militant groups. The wide reach of terrorist organizations such as Boko Haram perpetuates strife across the continent, harming the countries and people who are caught in the crossfire. In particular, this affects children.

The conflict in Northern Mali is a notable encapsulation of the way violence impacts children — in addition to the 41 schools 34 reported incidents of killing and maiming, the UN office for Children and Armed Conflict has reported 159 cases of recruitment and use of child soldiers in 2017 alone. And the animosity causing this is not new, remaining consistent from the rebellions in the 1960s, through the 2015 peace accord, which the Human Rights Watch reports was only met with further deterioration of security as anti-terrorist operations led to numerous human rights violations. To combat the effects of this ongoing issue, the United States should provide funding to organizations focussing on the control of violence in Northern Mali, following through with the protection and reintegration of children susceptible to abuse and soldiering. The two best candidates for this funding are the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), as these organizations specialize in the field necessary to address areas of conflict.

Due to the multi-faceted nature of child soldier recruitment, addressing the issue must take into account both the management of conflict and the reintegration of child soldiers. One NGO which specializes in this vital role of conflict management is the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD). Founded in 1992, this organization has been the first African NGO to address the UN security council, and has received praise from late South African president Nelson Mandela as well as the United Nations for its approach to conflict intervention. In addition to a five-year operations plan responding to African conflict that considers international variables, ACCORD demonstrates a high level of understanding on the push-and-pull specifics of child soldier recruitment. This expresses the importance they place on reintegration after conflict resolution, making them one of the best organizations for following through with the analysis and resolution of conflict in Africa.

For specializing in the protection of children amid violence, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) provides a focus on the Northern Malian conflict in order to monitor and prevent human rights violations. Due to the size of the IGO, provides personnel to oversee the legal recognition of children’s rights. In addition to its work in freeing and providing security for child soldiers. MINUSMA’s mission includes specialists called child Protection Advisors, who administer operations involving children in order to minimize human rights violations and maximize legal and martial security. This advisory group demonstrates the training and care that is dedicated to MINUSMA staff, supported by the 2018 Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation in Mali, which provides reporting on the security and rectitude of MINUSMA workers. The high level of integrity and specialization of the MINUSMA mission and personnel  qualifies them as one of the most active and influential organizations doing work for child soldiers in Mali at this time.

While the tensions in Northern Mali have been long standing, they are still a very recent issue. Just three weeks ago, the Long War Journal reported on statements from Al Qaeda on the presence of French troops in the Operational Coordination Mechanism (MOC), and alleged crimes committed during their patrols among the Malian military and the numerous opposing militant groups. As the presence of violence continues in this manner, so too does the practice of recruiting and violating child soldiers; in conjunction with the reported 150,000 children denied education due to occupation or destruction of schools, the effects which conflict has on Mali’s youngest generation is significant and undeniable. Considering the push-and-pull causes of recruitment analyzed by ACCORD, controlling violence and reintegrating children is vital for efforts to end the conflict as a whole. The aforementioned organizations would be the prime candidates for these task, providing the most effective action in addressing the issue of child soldiering.