United Nations: The UN Children`s Fund (UNICEF) has called for keeping child soldiers out of armed conflicts, citing latest reports that armed groups in northern Mali are increasingly recruiting and using children for military purposes.
"While it is difficult to establish the precise figures, reliable sources have stated that numbers (of children) involved are in the hundreds and appear to be escalating," UNICEF said in a news release issued here Friday.
"UNICEF calls on all parties to the conflict, leaders and community members to ensure that children are protected from the harmful impact of armed conflict and do not participate in hostilities," reported Xinhua citing the release.
Last month, the agency reported that at least 175 boys, between the ages of 12 and 18, were directly associated with armed groups in north Mali, where fighting between government forces and Tuareg rebels broke out in January.
The instability and insecurity resulting from the renewed clashes, as well as the proliferation of armed groups in the region and political instability in the wake of a military coup d`etat in March, have forced over 250,000 Malians to flee to neighbouring countries.
UNICEF warned of the deteriorating conditions in northern Mali, where the malnutrition rate is among the highest in the country. Schools have been closed for much of the year and cholera has surfaced along the Niger river.
"Community coping mechanisms are being stretched to the extreme and risk failure, with negative consequences for children and women," UNICEF said, adding that it has received only 28 percent of the $58 million it seeks for an emergency appeal to help the Malian children this year.