Children in Mali

Mali's greatest resource is its children

Deux filles joyeuses
UNICEF Mali/2017/Sokhin

Insecurity has also denied many children in Mali their right to education. Today, more than 800 schools in Mali are closed due to insecurity, affecting almost a quarter of a million 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.

Emergency and conflict

Women and children outside a UNICEF tent at a newly created displacement site in Sevare.
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 800 schools in Mali are closed due to insecurity, affecting almost a quarter of a million 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

Daby sleeps on her mother's back as she dredges for gold in western Mali.
UNICEF/UN0293610/Dicko

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 80 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

On 7 March 2018 in Mali, 1-day-old twins are cradled by their mother, Fatoumata Traore (hands visible), at the Reference Health Centre in Bougouni.
UNICEF/UN0188869/Njiokiktjien

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 24 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 two 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.