2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Mali

MALI: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Mali does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included training judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials on trafficking and conducting awareness raising activities. Given the military’s past recruitment and use of children between the ages of 9 and 14, the government issued an edict banning children from military camps and designated a child soldier focal point to coordinate with international organizations when allegations of child soldiering arise. It partnered with an international organization to identify children used by armed groups, including potential trafficking victims, and referred most of those children to international organizations for care as part of its continued efforts under its Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) plan with the UN. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity. Substantial personnel turnover related to the August 2020 coup d’état and subsequent formation of the transition government hindered Mali’s ability to maintain consistent anti-trafficking efforts and accurately report on those efforts for this reporting period. Officials prosecuted hereditary slavery cases as misdemeanor offenses and continued sentencing traffickers with penalties inconsistent with the law. The government continued providing support to and collaborating with the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group (GATIA), a non-governmental armed group led by a Malian general that recruited and used children. The government did not investigate any suspects, including government officials, for child soldiering crimes or make significant efforts to prevent armed groups from recruiting and using children. Law enforcement continued to lack resources and understanding of human trafficking, which impeded law enforcement efforts. Shelter and services for victims, especially male victims, remained insufficient and primarily restricted to Bamako. Therefore Mali remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year.


Cease support to armed groups that unlawfully recruit and use children, enforce measures banning children from military bases, and hold any individuals or complicit officials criminally accountable for child soldiering offenses, including using children in support roles. • As part of the peace process, engage with non-governmental armed groups to cease recruitment and use of children. • Amend the 2012 anti-trafficking law to ensure that it can be used to effectively investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses involving hereditary slavery, and sentence convicted slaveholders to significant prison terms. • Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and sentence convicted traffickers, including complicit officials, to prison terms in line with the 2012 anti-trafficking law. • Expand and strengthen implementation of programs for the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of former child combatants that address specific needs of child ex-combatants, including psycho-social care, family reintegration, education, and vocational training, and release any children inappropriately detained. • Allocate dedicated budgets, resources, and personnel to the anti-trafficking committee and institutionalize monthly committee meetings to improve operationalization of anti-trafficking policies and inter-ministerial coordination. • Screen vulnerable populations, including children associated with armed groups, individuals in commercial sex, and communities with a history of hereditary slavery, for trafficking indicators and refer them to appropriate services. • Develop standard operating procedures to identify victims, and train criminal justice officials and social service providers on the procedures. • Train and equip law enforcement on effective, victim-centered investigation techniques and trauma-sensitive approaches when interviewing victims. • Regularly train judges and prosecutors on the 2012 anti-trafficking law and standardize continuing education trainings. • Provide financial and in-kind support to NGOs that identify and assist trafficking victims. • Adopt a new national plan of action and allocate resources to its implementation.


The government maintained inadequate law enforcement efforts. Law 2012-023 Relating to the Combat against Trafficking in Persons and Similar Practices, as amended, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The law prescribed penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses, except forced begging for which it prescribed lesser penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 to 2 million West African CFA francs (FCFA) ($945-$3,780). These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. Government officials and NGOs reported that the law did not precisely define hereditary slavery and therefore could not be effectively implemented to prosecute trafficking cases involving hereditary slavery. During the previous reporting period, the government, in collaboration with an international organization, drafted legislation revising the anti-trafficking law to explicitly define hereditary slavery as a form of human trafficking; the legislation remained pending before the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) at the end of the reporting period.

The government continued to lack a centralized data collection mechanism and did not systematically report law enforcement actions, making comprehensive statistics difficult to obtain. The government reported investigating at least 59 cases, including 17 new case investigations, compared with investigating 75 cases, including 40 new case investigations, during the previous reporting period. The government prosecuted at least 78 defendants, including 22 defendants under the 2012 trafficking law and 56 defendants under discrimination and related penal code statutes for hereditary slavery. The courts convicted 40 traffickers, including 31 slaveholders under penal code provisions and nine traffickers under the 2012 trafficking law, and dismissed cases against 25 alleged slaveholders. This was compared to prosecutions of 67 defendants and convictions of 13 traffickers, including two slaveholders, during the previous reporting period. Prosecutors charged most hereditary slavery cases as misdemeanor offenses under discrimination, destruction of crops, or burglary statutes, which prescribed significantly lower penalties than those available under the trafficking law. Of the 31 slaveholders convicted, 25 defendants received a fully suspended prison sentence and a fine and six received a sentence of one year’s imprisonment. The government convicted nine Nigerian nationals of sex trafficking and sentenced them to between 18 months’ and five years’ imprisonment. The court sentenced only two traffickers to penalties as prescribed in the anti-trafficking law. The Brigade de Moeurs was the primary law enforcement agency investigating sex trafficking and cases involving children, and the Specialized Judiciary Brigade and Specialized Investigative Brigade investigated and prosecuted transnational trafficking. The Migrant Smuggling and Trafficking Brigade, created in October 2019 with the assistance of a foreign donor, investigated illicit migration and migrant smuggling, including potential trafficking cases. These units were not dedicated to human trafficking, lacked adequate resources and training, and could not access portions of the country due to insecurity.

During the reporting period, the government, in partnership with an international organization, trained 100 judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials on investigating trafficking and smuggling; this included training 25 magistrates in August 2020 and 30 law enforcement officials in November 2020. Another international organization trained 59 law enforcement officials on identifying and interviewing victims, with limited government support. Despite these efforts, continued lack of awareness of the 2012 anti-trafficking law and frequent turnover and transfers of officials stymied law enforcement action. Additionally, law enforcement’s system-wide lack of funding and resources, including vehicles and equipment to investigate crimes, impeded anti-trafficking efforts. The government had limited or no judicial presence in much of Mali, primarily in the north and center of the country, due to continuing security challenges. Insufficient funding and judicial staffing levels limited regular sessions of the Court of Assizes—which heard all serious criminal felony cases, including trafficking—and caused significant judicial delays. Insecurity limited court sessions outside of the capital, and pandemic restrictions on gatherings and court hearings further exacerbated judicial delays.

The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking, including hereditary slavery or child soldiering offenses; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. Observers alleged government officials interfered in hereditary slavery cases, and at times threatened community members, in an effort to have charges dismissed. A foreign government alleged Malian law enforcement returned three trafficking victims to their traffickers in exchange for bribes during the reporting period, and law enforcement officers allegedly coerced victims to pay bribes to avoid fines or obtain fraudulent identity documents. There were no reports Malian armed forces (FAMa) recruited and used children in combat or support roles during the reporting period. The Ministry of Defense (MoD) issued an edict banning children from all deployed military camps in October 2020. The MoD also designated a child soldier focal point to coordinate with international organizations when allegations of child soldiering arise. However, in the previous reporting period, observers verified for the first time since 2014 that FAMa recruited and used 47 children between the ages of 9 and 14 years old in support roles in Gao region as couriers and domestic help; FAMa released all 47 children to their families and an international organization for care by March 2020. International observers reported non-governmental armed groups—such as GATIA, led by a Malian general—continued recruiting and using child soldiers during the reporting period. During the reporting period, an international organization reported FAMa personnel sexually exploited girls in exchange for food and other goods in 2019.


The government maintained efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. Government officials and NGO partners identified 73 sex trafficking victims, including 65 Nigerians, six Malians, and two Sierra Leoneans during the reporting period. Officials also identified and screened 115 potential trafficking victims; this compared with 64 trafficking victims and 106 potential victims identified during the previous reporting period. The government and NGOs provided care to all potential and identified victims. Additionally, an international organization identified at least 230 children associated with armed groups in the first half of 2020 alone, a significant increase compared to 215 children in 2019; authorities referred most of the children for care, while 15 remained in detention. The government did not have standard victim identification procedures.

The government did not have a formal referral mechanism but worked closely with the Fodé and Yeguine Network for Action (RAFY), a national network composed of NGOs, international organizations, and government ministries, including the Ministry for the Advancement of Women, Children, and the Family (MFFE), to refer identified trafficking victims to service providers. Officials reported the network did not adequately function during the reporting period due to poor coordination between members. With some government support, RAFY assisted 63 identified trafficking victims and 115 potential trafficking victims by providing shelter, referring victims to NGOs for services, or assisting with repatriations during the reporting period. An international organization assisted an additional 106 trafficking victims and 10 babies born while in the organization’s care during the reporting period; this included 110 Nigerians, two Sierra Leoneans, and four Guineans. The government relied on NGOs to provide the majority of services, funded by private and international donors. NGOs operated transit centers for adult and child victims of crime, including one specialized shelter for female adult trafficking victims in Bamako. The government distributed pandemic prevention kits including food and sanitary supplies, valued at nearly 40 million FCFA ($75,610), to NGOs managing 10 transit centers. Services varied by location but generally included short-term shelter, food, counseling, vocational training, repatriation, and reintegration assistance. MFFE had general care facilities that could accommodate trafficking victims but did not report whether the facilities assisted any victims during the reporting period. Shelters and services for victims outside the capital remained limited, especially in the north. Foreign and domestic victims received the same services. While some facilities offered specialized services for female victims, there were no such services for male victims. An international organization assessed victim services remained inadequate during the reporting period. Pandemic mitigation measures to allow for social distancing reduced already insufficient shelter capacity; additionally, border closures required victims of trafficking remain at shelters for long periods of time. In collaboration with international organizations, the government assisted in repatriating at least 33 Malians exploited in Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, and Senegal by providing travel documents and reintegration assistance. The Nigerian consulate in Bamako coordinated with an international organization to assist approximately 200 Nigerians in 2020 with shelter, basic services, and repatriation.

The government did not offer legal alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship; however, most identified victims were ECOWAS nationals who did not require special status to remain in Mali. The government did not have formal policies to encourage victims to participate in trials against their traffickers. In addition, sources reported authorities employed trauma-insensitive methods to rush victims to provide statements for fear that victims would be unavailable or unwilling to provide future statements once they entered NGO and international organization shelters. Victims could file civil suits against their traffickers; however, no victims reportedly used this provision during the reporting period and many victims were unaware of the option. There were no reports the government detained or otherwise penalized trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; however, due to a lack of formal identification procedures, authorities may have detained some victims. Authorities continued following the government’s 2013 inter-ministerial protocol requiring them to direct former child soldiers to rehabilitation centers, and observers reported officials had a better understanding of the protocol. However, the government continued to inappropriately detain some children associated with armed groups. Under a DDR agreement with an international organization, the government and international organization partners identified 230 children used by non-state armed groups, including potential trafficking victims, in the first half of 2020 and referred most of those children to international organizations for care. However, observers reported authorities inappropriately detained some children for alleged affiliation with non-state armed groups; at the end of the reporting period, at least 15 children remained in custody, representing a slight decrease from prior reporting periods. An international organization reported concerns the government held some children, including potential trafficking victims, with adults in military detention centers, which increased their vulnerability to further exploitation.


The government maintained weak efforts to prevent trafficking. The government continued implementing the 2018-2022 National Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons during the reporting period. The national anti-trafficking committee met four times during the reporting period, compared to meeting three times during the previous reporting period. However, the lack of coordination and ownership for activities in the action plan among committee members impeded its effectiveness. The government lacked dedicated staff to work on trafficking, including the role of chairman of the anti-trafficking committee, which severely impeded the government’s efforts to consistently coordinate anti-trafficking activities. The government allocated 220 million FCFA ($415,880) for anti-trafficking efforts, an increase from 200 million FCFA ($378,070) allocated the previous year. In December 2020, the government conducted awareness raising sessions on child forced begging for community leaders and Quranic teachers in coordination with civil society organizations. The MOJ also trained community stakeholders, including community leaders and traditional leaders, on trafficking in persons, especially issues related to forced labor and sex trafficking, around artisanal gold mines in four regions. An action plan to cease recruitment and use of children drafted in the previous reporting period by the UN and non-governmental armed groups, including GATIA, remained pending signature from the leadership of each armed group. The police operated a hotline for crimes against women and children, although it did not report receiving any trafficking calls during the reporting period. The government did not make efforts to address fraudulent recruitment of Malians abroad. Labor inspectors lacked sufficient capacity or resources to regulate the informal sector, where most cases of forced labor occurred. In November 2020, the government adopted a decree implementing the 2019 mining law, which prohibited child labor and child trafficking in traditional gold mines and quarries. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.


As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Mali, and traffickers exploit victims from Mali abroad. Some families sell their children into domestic servitude or forced labor in gold mines. Internal trafficking is more prevalent than transnational trafficking. Labor traffickers exploit boys from Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso in agriculture—especially rice, cotton, dry cereal, and corn cultivation—artisanal gold mines, domestic work, transportation, begging, and the informal commercial sector. Corrupt Quranic teachers coerce and force Malian boys to beg or perform agricultural work in neighboring countries, including Senegal, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire. Slaveholders subject some members of Mali’s black Tuareg community to slavery practices rooted in traditional relationships of hereditary servitude. An NGO noted hereditary slavery practices in Mali differ from surrounding countries, as communities – rather than individuals or families – exploit victims of slavery. Traffickers exploit men and boys, primarily of Songhai ethnicity, in a long-standing practice of debt bondage in the salt mines of Taoudeni in northern Mali. NGO reports indicate traffickers exploit Malian children in forced labor on cotton and cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire. Malian women and girls are victims of sex trafficking in Gabon, Libya, Lebanon, and Tunisia and domestic servitude in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia. Traffickers recruit women and girls from other West African countries, particularly Nigeria and Benin, with promises of jobs as nurses or waitresses in Bamako, but instead exploit them in sex trafficking throughout Mali, especially in small mining communities. In January 2019, Nigerian authorities estimated more than 20,000 Nigerian girls are victims of sex trafficking in Mali, although this data has not been corroborated. An NGO reported sex trafficking of girls in Mali has steadily increased since 2005. Traffickers compel women and girls into sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic work, agricultural labor, and support roles in artisanal gold mines. Reports allege corruption and complicity among local police and gendarmes in Farako may have facilitated forced labor and sex trafficking in mining communities. Africans transiting Mali to Europe, primarily via Algeria and Libya and less so via Mauritania, are vulnerable to trafficking, and Nigerian traffickers exploit Nigerian women in sex trafficking in Mali en route to Europe. An international organization repatriated 147 Malians from Algeria and 1,305 Malians from Libya in 2019, compared to more than 1,430 Malians from Libya in 2017; while some returnees were identified as trafficking victims in 2017, the international organization did not identify any trafficking victims among the 2019 returnees.

During the reporting period, the government did not exercise control over the majority of its territory and lost ground it had previously regained. Justice officials had no or an extremely limited presence in much of Mali, particularly in the northern and central regions, limiting the government’s ability to administer justice, provide victim services, and gather data. Since early 2012, rebel and Islamic extremist groups have occupied parts of northern Mali. Terrorist organizations and armed groups continue to recruit and use children, mostly boys, in combat, requiring children to carry weapons, staff checkpoints, guard prisoners, and conduct patrols; some used boys for running errands and spying. Some of these groups use girls in combat, support roles, and for sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery through forced marriages to members of these militias. During the reporting period, authorities identified at least one girl held in sexual slavery by armed groups. The armed groups purportedly coerce some families to sell their children to the groups or compel communities into giving up teenage boys to the groups for “community protection.” An international organization reported traffickers fraudulently recruited some children for education in Quranic schools but forced them to fight with armed groups. Some families reportedly insert their children into the ranks of armed groups because parents believe they will benefit from DDR assistance. According to an international organization, insecurity, the pandemic, and deteriorating economic conditions are leading to a rise in child trafficking, forced labor, and forced recruitment by armed groups in Mali. International observers reported artisanal gold mines controlled by armed groups remain a concern for trafficking, child labor, and child soldiering. In the past, a Malian armed group forcibly recruited Malian refugees in Mauritania to be child soldiers in Mali.

Malian security forces sometimes cooperated with non-government armed groups which recruited and used children, sometimes through force, fraud, or coercion. The government provided in-kind support to and collaborated with GATIA, a non-governmental armed group led by a Malian general that used and recruited children during the reporting period. Malian security forces allegedly cooperated with other non-government armed groups that recruited and used children during the reporting period. In October 2020, the government appointed members of armed groups to cabinet positions; it is unclear to what extent, if any, these individuals remain engaged in the armed groups. In September 2020, the government launched the Menaka without Weapons initiative, an operation carried out by Malian defense and security forces, Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA) and GATIA patrols with the support of MINUSMA and Operation Barkhane, to secure the town of Menaka. An international organization reported armed groups, including GATIA, were taking steps to complete a UN Action Plan that would bring them into compliance with international child protection laws, but the agreement had not been signed by the end of the reporting period; CMA signed a UN Action Plan in 2017, but continues to recruit and use children. During the reporting period, one international organization reported CMA used children younger than the age of 18 to manage checkpoints at gold mines under its control. During the previous reporting period, FAMa recruited and used at least 47 children between the ages of 9 and 14 years old in support roles in Gao region as couriers and domestic help. During the reporting period, an international organization reported FAMa personnel committed acts of conflict-related sexual violence, including child sex trafficking. In 2016, an international organization investigated GATIA officials, Malian Defense and Security Forces officers, and civilians for conflict-related sexual violence, including sex trafficking and sexual slavery.