Children in Mali

Mali's greatest resource is its children

UNICEF Mali/2017/Sokhin

More than half of Mali's total population of around 19 million people are under the age of 18.

Mali’s young population presents immense potential for contributing positively to building the Mali of tomorrow. Many of Mali's girls and boys are denied the opportunity to reach their full potential because they are unable to access quality education, health and nutrition services, clean water, and adequate sanitation and hygiene. In addition, many children - especially girls - are exposed to various forms of violence and abuse.

Before the onset of the conflict in 2012, Mali was making positive strides in development.

  • From 2000 to 2015, child mortality decreased by almost half
  • In 2015, 80 per cent  of the population had access to an improved water source
  • Between 2006 and 2015, school enrolment had increased by 10 per cent  
  • Almost 90 per cent of children are now registered birth.

However, years of conflict and chronic poverty have now reversed these trends.

Emergency and conflict

UNICEF Mali/2019/Keita

In 2018, almost one third of Mali’s population were living in areas that were affected by conflict. Children and young people, especially girls, continue to suffer disproportionately from the effects of the ongoing crisis. Every day, children and young people miss out on basic social and protection services and risk displacement, separation from their loved ones and exposure to abuse, exploitation and sexual & gender-based violence.

Insecurity has also denied many children in Mali of their right to education. Today, more than 1100 schools in Mali are closed due to insecurity, affecting over 350,000 children, many of whom are in the central region of Mopti. UNICEF estimates that over two million children across the country, aged 5 to 17 are out of school, for reasons linked to insecurity, household poverty, child labour, child marriage, and a lack of quality schools close to children’s homes.

Situation of girls


But even before the onset of the current crisis, being a child in Mali was not easy. One in two girls in Mali is married while still a child. Girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school, are more likely to experience violence, and are at greater risk of death due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Child marriage also often results in separation from family and friends and lack of freedom to participate in community activities, which has consequences on girls’ mental and physical well-being and limits their ability to fulfil their potential and fully participate in developing their families, communities and society.

In addition to child marriage, Mali has one of the highest rates of female genital mutilation worldwide: the practice affects more than 70 per cent of girls. Female genital mutilation is a fundamental violation of the right of a child to survive and thrive. It hampers the ability of girls to become healthy adults who can create better lives for themselves and their communities.

Child survival and development


The main killer diseases of children in Mali are pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria - common diseases which are entirely preventable. Access to quality health services and skilled healthcare workers, particularly in the north and centre of the country, is severely limited. The result is that one in ten children never sees its fifth birthday, and less than half of children (45 per cent) in Mali benefit from complete vaccination which would protect them from common childhood illnesses.

Chronic malnutrition, or stunting, affects more than 26 per cent of children in Mali. Stunting has long-term effects on a child's physical and cognitive development and makes children more susceptible to sickness and leads to poor performance in school. Mali also has one of the highest rates of acute malnutrition worldwide, and severe acute malnutrition – the deadliest form of malnutrition – affects two per cent of children.

Ensuring clean water, basic toilets and good hygiene practices – all essential in promoting child health and survival – also remains a concern in Mali. While considerable progress has been made in providing improved water sources in recent years (more than three-quarters of the population now has clean water), only around one-third of the population has access to a toilet, and more than one million Malians still practice open defecation.

UNICEF works across sectors in support of a Mali where all children, particularly the most vulnerable, benefit from all their rights. To find out more about our work in Mali, click here.